Stellar season: Not quite a storybook ending, but West Forsyth soccer finishes with strong 23-1 record

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 30, 2019

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By Marc Pruitt
For the Clemmons Courier

Although the West Forsyth girls’ soccer team fell short of its goal of winning another NCHSAA 4-A state championship, Coach Scott Bilton said there were plenty of positives to take from the 2019 season.

After losing 2-1 to Pinecrest last Tuesday in the fourth round of the state tournament, West ended its season with a 23-1 record — the second most wins during a season in school history — and finishing the regular season undefeated — the first time in school history.

And for a group of 12 seniors, many of whom have been playing varsity for four seasons, the list of accomplishments is impressive: 2017 NCHSAA 4-A state champions, three Central Piedmont 4-A Conference championships, and making the state semifinals in three of their four years.

“Making it to the final four in the state tournament three times in four seasons is pretty remarkable,” Bilton said. “And that’s coming from a school that had never made it that far before. Those are some great accomplishments.”

The immediate sting of the loss to Pinecrest was still lingering. West led 1-0 at halftime before two second-half goals put Pinecrest on top for good, including the game-winner with 16:51 left. The Titans held a 12-9 advantage in shots, including a 5-2 advantage in the first half.

“I thought if we could just get that second goal that things would have been different,” Bilton said. “And we had several opportunities to do that. And we did a great job of limiting Pinecrest’s chances. A couple of bounces and a couple of situations went the wrong way for us. And before we knew it, they tied it up and the momentum just shifted. We couldn’t keep them out after that.”

Bilton said that he always believed his team would rally and tie the game, especially during the final 15 minutes after Pinecrest took the lead.

“I kept remembering back to a game in the playoffs four years ago against Charlotte Catholic, when we scored in the final second,” he said. “Even when the announcer started counting down from one minute, I had a belief that we were going to put one in. but they just held us out.”

Bilton said that the conversation with his team was tough following the loss.

“I just wanted them to all know how much I cared about them and that I would always have their back,” he said. “I told those 12 seniors that they would always be Titans and reminded them of all of their accomplishments, not only this season, but for all four years, and how proud they should be and how proud of them I was. The moment kind of overwhelms you when you think about all the emotion that goes with it. What I hated the most was seeing those girls hurting and in pain. That was evident.”

Bilton said a lot of his players hung around the field a little longer than normal, realizing the finality of the moment.

“Everybody handles adversity and disappointment differently,” he said. “A few of the girls sat around in disbelief. Some hung around talking to their parents a little longer than normal or were out with their friends and people in the community who came to see the game. Seeing that really makes you appreciate that sometimes these things are bigger than just a game. There’s a lot that has gone into building those relationships over the years. These kids really worked hard and played hard for one another and played for something bigger than themselves.”

Bilton said that he started to realize it might be a special season during a trip to Asheville in late March, when the Titans posted a 5-0 win against Asheville High School and a 1-0 win against T.C. Roberson to improve to 8-0 on the season.

“As we were progressing through conference play after that, we found ourselves in a lot of close games that we would always find a way to win,” Bilton said. “We kept finding timely goals and timely opportunities. That really speaks to the solidarity of the group of girls we had. Throughout the season, defense was the backbone of our team.”

West outscored its opponents 75-8 this season, with three of those goals coming in the final two games.

“The Pinecrest coaches told us we had the best defense they had seen all season and the two best goalies (senior Kerry Eagleston and sophomore Olivia Pratapas), Bilton said. “And that defense was led by a group of experienced players who never wavered. It’s a special group of players.”

Bilton said that losing the group of 12 seniors will be difficult because of all the experience that group brought to the team and for the relationships they have formed.

“They have this mountain of accomplishments and that will be hard to replace,” Bilton said. “But we have 10 returning players for next year who call all play, and we had a JV team that went undefeated this year and gave up three or four goals all season. We’ll have a good mix of players to help us keep the program moving forward.”