Panthers make strong finish but fall short of playoff bid

cflax-goalieTwo weeks ago, the second-year Carolina Forest lacrosse program was sitting with a 1-5 record and little chance of playing in the postseason. But after a strong finish that saw the Panthers win five straight games, they just missed out on the playoffs but managed a strong send-off.

Carolina Forest lost Saturday’s regular-season finale that snapped its winning streak and kept it out of the postseason, but the thrilling finish gave the program good reason for high expectations in the future. Here’s a look back at the team’s emotional and thrilling finish:

After scoring back-to-back road wins over Waccamaw and Richland Northeast, the Panthers headed south to Hilton Head for a weekend doubleheader. Coach Adam Gross received a call that four Hilton Head students were involved in a serious car accident and two lacrosse players were killed impact. The match was cancelled, of course, but the Panthers made the trip anyway to attend a vigil for the victims at Hilton Head High.

Carolina Forest played Bluffton the next day and quickly fell behind 2-0 before Gross called a timeout and reminded the Panthers about the tragedy. Drawing inspiration from the unfortunate event, the Panthers responded by scoring the next nine goals and rolled to a 15-7 victory.

Then came an also emotional Senior Night when the Panthers honor eight upperclassmen who helped start the program last season. Led by senior goalkeeper Austin Kelly’s 23 saves, Carolina Forest also showed promise for a bright future as freshmen and sophomores led the scoring in a 12-9 win over Waccamaw.

That set the stage for last weekend’s doubleheader and an unlikely push for the playoffs. Carolina Forest won its fifth straight match on Friday with a 13-7 victory over River Bluff High to run its record to 6-5, but Saturday’s loss to state power Academic Magnet ended their postseason hopes and their physically and emotionally draining final fortnight of the season.

The Panthers lose Kelly and seven other seniors, but Gross feels good about the direction the program is heading. Any future success will be deeply rooted in the strong finish to the 2013 season.

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