WAKE FOREST — First-year East Wake coach Michael Howes stood behind the visiting bench at Heritage High School as his Warriors team gathered its gear Wednesday, Oct. 30.
He knew the players were hurt, having fallen 3-0 to the Huskies in the first round of the state playoffs, ending what had been a season of new growth for the Warriors.
A year ago, East Wake finished second-to-last in the Greater Neuse River Conference, topping last place Southeast Raleigh twice for its only two wins of the season to end with a 2-15-3 record.
“We wanted to come in here and we wanted to open up some eyes and surprise some people,” Howes said. “I know they were probably looking past us at who they were going to play next, but their game was very good tonight.”
The Warriors ended the year 7-9-2 Wednesday after a return to the NCHSAA 4A tournament for an East Wake team which hadn’t missed the postseason since 2006 before last year.
East Wake kept the first-round match close through the first half. Heritage came out aggressively early on. The Huskies lit up the scoreboard when Kyler Novaria drew out East Wake keeper Jason Dean and found Logan Shytle, who popped a shot over Dean’s head in the 21st minute.
Despite a relentless attack, East Wake held Heritage to one goal before the break, helped by Dean, who finished with 11 saves.
The Warriors, seeded No. 21, were more aggressive after the break, but couldn’t find the back of the net. No 12 Heritage scored again in the 70th minute on an Alex Valdez goal, and then on a Zach Shytle penalty kick in the 76th.
“We decided to try and play a little more attacking in the second half, but some situations came up and we kind of ended up on the short end of the stick,” Howes said. “They’re very disappointed because they’ve been playing really well. This was not anywhere near the games we’ve played this year. We’ve played some really tough teams ... so we had high hopes coming out here tonight, and the boys were loose and they really didn’t have anything to lose being the 21st seed.”
Howes hopes the loss will be both an on- and off-field lesson for the East Wake players as they try to build on the success realized this season. The Warriors will return 12 players next season.
“This is life,” he said. “A lot of times you only get one shot at something, and the boys have to understand that, so it’s a good lesson. We’ve had a great season. It’s been a big turnaround and they’re responsible for that. ... We got to the first round of the playoffs so hopefully next year we can improve on that.”