Young Panthers starting to put it all together on pitch

When Cole Poirier slotted home his third goal against Conway Friday, he stared at his hand and emphatically counted out the night’s scores on his fingers.

He had reason to celebrate.

The feat was a first for the junior striker, who had previously scored twice in a high school match but had never notched a hat trick until last week’s 5-0 win over the Tigers. But the victory wasn’t just a milestone for Poirier.

It was also a sign that this young Carolina Forest squad is beginning to mature.

“Every game we’re improving,” Poirier said. “We’re gaining more chemistry. We’re turning into a really good squad.”

The Panthers know the favorite in their region is once again Socastee, which boasts a senior-laden roster that shut out the Panthers in their first matchup.

But as of Monday, Carolina Forest’s only other region defeat had come against St. James, and that contest went to penalty kicks.

If the Panthers can secure a second place finish like they did last year, they are guaranteed a home playoff game.

And for a team that lost more than half of its starters to graduation, that’s progress.

“It’s a very young side,” second-year coach Rob Bramble said. “We have some ninth-graders on our varsity squad.”

The Panthers started just three seniors against Conway and they have only four on their roster. The defense features three new players, yet Poirier has been pleased with his teammates’ recent efforts.

“They’re what cause everything,” he said of the defense.

“They get the ball. They kick it up the field. I just finish what they do.”

The Panthers looked sharp across the pitch last week, earning two shutout wins and evening the team’s region record at 2-2. Carolina Forest was scheduled to play West Florence Tuesday after press deadlines. They will face South Florence on the road March 26.

“We’ve got strength all through the team,” Bramble said.

“[Friday] we got all of our kids in the game. It’s very much a squad game. You have your starters, but you also have good kids who can come in and give you quality minutes.”

That depth should help the Panthers continue turning around a program earned its first home playoff game in years a season ago and shows no signs of waning ambition.

“We’re going to make the playoffs every year — that’s the expectation I have,” Bramble said.

“And even though we’re young this year, I’m still expecting us to make the playoffs.”

Photo by Charles D Perry/myhorrynews

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