Nov. 14—The Hibriten Panther boys' soccer team lost Thursday night 4-1 to the Hickory Red Tornadoes in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A playoffs.
The Panthers finish the 2023 season with a 19-4-3 overall record and a 9-1 record in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference.
The battle between the two evenly matched teams began with a good defensive effort by both squads.
Hickory struck first at the 18:59 mark in the first half when sophomore Braden McCourt found the back of the net to put the Red Tornadoes out front 1-0.
Hibriten senior captain midfielder Nick Hawkins suffered an ankle injury in the first half that prevented his return to the game.
Later in the game, injuries to senior midfielder Tyler Roberts and senior goalkeeper Kenyen Ferguson severely hampered the Panther's offensive and defensive abilities.
The Red Tornadoes took advantage of the situation, and senior midfielder Joesue Leal scored a goal with 10:48 to play in the first half to give Hickory a 2-0 lead.
Both teams continued to have scoring opportunities throughout the remainder of the opening half but failed to score, and Hickory led 2-0 at halftime.
The Red Tornadoes added to their lead in the second half when Justin Ortiz scored just minutes into the half to make it 3-0.
Close to a minute later, Hickory forward Josh Herring found the back of the net to push the Hickory lead to 4-0.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard again when Hibriten was awarded a penalty kick with 4:39 remaining in the game, and senior forward Miguel Ayala scored a goal to make it 4-1.
The battle continued for the remainder of the game, but the injuries had taken their toll on the Panthers, and Hickory claimed a 4-1 victory to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Going into the game, Hibriten head coach Jim Blanton was concerned with the loss of key players, and he said losing more players to injury in Thursday night's game had a huge impact on the game.
"We were playing with limited starters. Eric (Meza) hadn't played since the South Caldwell game. We missed Tristan Newcomb's speed. Nick (Hawkins) is the heart and soul of the team," Blanton said.
Hickory advances to face the Enka Jets on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the regional championship round.
Enka is 20-5-1 overall and 7-5 in the Mountain 3A/4A Conference.