Hammerheads Great Playoff Run Comes Up One Win Short.
As the Wilmington Hammerheads players sat near their bench, watching the Charleston Battery’s players accept the 2012 USL PRO Championship Trophy, the sense of disappointment was evident.
“It was tough,” said defender Gareth Evans. “I think as a team we didn’t show up today. I don’t know if the occasion got to us, I know we were definitely running low on energy.
“We’d had three or four tough road games now, 2-1 in Charlotte, 3-2 in Richmond, 4-3 in Orlando, and they definitely took their toll, but not to make excuses, credit to Charleston. I thought they were worthy winners on the night.”
As hard as the Hammerheads battled, as Evans pointed out, it appeared the rigorous journey they had taken to reach the final and a meeting with the Battery had taken its toll.
From the high of holding on against regular-season champion Orlando City in the semifinals to the low of being edged out on a lone goal by Mike Azira, Wilmington’s run in the playoffs was a wild one, but one that unfortunately for its players and staff, and the large contingent of fans that had made the trip down for the game, ended on a disappointing note.
Throughout the contest, while the Hammerheads appeared to keep their shape well defensively, when they gained possession and looked to hit quickly upfield, the passing wasn’t quite as accurate as they would have hoped, with the Battery often quicker to gather the loose passes and regain control.
Charleston threatened more, and with Colin Favey putting in a strong performance to limit Corey Hertzog’s time and space, causing the forward to drop deeper to try and find possession, the Hammerheads rarely threatened Andrew Dykstra’s goal, forcing just one save and recording only four shots.
“We just didn’t control the ball, we were sloppy, and like I said, we just didn’t play well,” Hammerheads coach David Irving said. “Our work rate was a little off, but you’ve got to give Charleston credit, they worked hard and they were a little better tonight.
But while the result against the Battery left disappointment, the Hammerheads had a lot to be proud about. Reaching the club’s first final since 2003, and doing so against the odds, should be something the club and its players appreciate as distance separates them from their final defeat.
Wilmington finished the regular season fifth in the league with a 10-7-7 record and 24 points.
The Hammerheads edged the Charlotte Eagles to open the playoffs on Steven Perry’s 76th minute game-winner. Tom Parratt’s second-half stoppage time goal was the difference in the 2-1 win over Richmond in the quarterfinals.
Corey Hertzog, formerly with the New York Red Bulls of MLS, scored two goals in the 4-3 semifinal win over Orlando City, which held a two-man advantage late in the game after two Hammerheads were ejected.
Hertzog, shut down by Charleston, led Wilmington in scoring in 2012 with nine goals and five assists.
A great run, but it wasn’t much consolation in the wake, though.
“I think in the long run, I’ll appreciate it, but right now, I don’t want to think about it,” Evans said. “We’ve done well. We’ve come fifth in the regular season when maybe we should have come higher, but I don’t think we didn’t deserve to be here. We certainly deserved to be here, but it’s disappointing. You never want to get to a final and be runnerup.
“Sitting there watching them lift the trophy, all happy smiles and stuff, it’s not nice. It just gives me more desire to come back next year and for us to be the team on that podium.”
And with the potential to bring back a number of key players from a squad that Irving called the deepest he’s ever assembled in Wilmington, the Hammerheads certainly could make another run at a championship next season.
“I think we showed that if we have team bonds in the entirety of the group, we can get far, especially when we’ve got good individual talent as well,” Evans said. “Obviously, Corey’s going back to MLS, but we have a lot of other players who can step up and do well, so hopefully we can keep the core group together and maybe next year add another couple of players to it. I think you’ll see us back here again next year.”
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