Hickory faced a tough test to begin the 2019 boys soccer season, as one of the top 2A teams in the state paid the Red Tornadoes a visit on Wednesday night. Despite trailing by just one score at the half and recording two goals in the final seven minutes, Hickory fell to East Lincoln by a 4-2 final in both teams’ season opener.
“On the counterattack, the two boys (twins Logan and Chase Gilley) they’ve got up top, they’re fantastic athletes, but they’re just so technically gifted too,” Hickory head coach Brian Jillings said. “They play well off each other and they’re just a handful. They’re gonna be a handful for any team, that’s a team that has a good chance of winning a 2A state championship.”
The Red Tornadoes’ first goal allowed was a costly one. Not only did the Mustangs’ Logan Gilley find the back of the net in the 12th minute, but he also collided with Hickory (0-1) goalkeeper Peyton Winkler, who left the contest with a head injury and did not return.
Backup keeper Mackenzie Tonks and the rest of the Red Tornadoes’ defense was able to keep East Lincoln (1-0) off the scoreboard for the rest of the half, but the hosts also failed to score as the Mustangs carried a 1-0 advantage into the intermission.
“He’s feeling a lot better,” said Jillings of Winkler. “Obviously, a blow to the head you’ve got to go through concussion protocol, so we’ll see how he feels the next few days. But Mackenzie came on and there was one little combination of plays that I thought he did a fantastic job, and in a tough position.
“First game, coming cold off the bench, and I thought he did really well for us,” he added of Tonks’ performance. “So I was proud of him for doing that.”
The visitors struck for three goals in an 11-minute span in the second half. After East Lincoln’s Chase Gilley scored in the 56th minute, Logan Gilley netted his second goal of the match in the 62nd. Less than five minutes later, freshman Blake Swanson scored his first high school goal on a corner kick that deflected off Tonks and into the back of the net.
Hickory finally got on the board in the 74th minute, as Patrick Ceccato took advantage of a one-on-one opportunity against East Lincoln keeper Will White. White came off his line and Ceccato blasted a shot past him to prevent the shutout.
The Red Tornadoes pulled closer in the 77th minute on a goal from Luis Juarez, but their rally attempt was too little, too late. Still, Jillings was proud of the way his squad continued to battle in spite of facing a late four-goal deficit.
“We kept playing. I think it’s nothing less than what we deserved,” said Jillings. “We had some opportunities and maybe if we had buried them it’s a different story, but the boys didn’t hang their heads. They just kept running at them and that was their reward.”
Hickory returns to action Monday against Hibriten. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. at Hickory High.