High School Sports

Hilton Head High boys fall to Fort Mill in first trip to state soccer championships

COLUMBIA -- Few heads were hung low in the Hilton Head Island High School soccer team's huddle Saturday afternoon. Even fewer tears were shed.

The outcome didn't go in their favor, but the bar has officially been set for the Seahawks.

"Everything we put into this season, it was worth something," junior Chris MacMurray said. "We won Lower State. Farthest team in Hilton Head boys history. We've got to hold our heads high."

The most successful -- and at times improbable -- season in Seahawks history ended on a sour note Saturday, as Fort Mill dispatched Hilton Head High, 3-1, in the Class 3-A state championship game at Memorial Stadium.

It was the Seahawks' first-ever appearance in the boys title match.

"No one will ever be able to take this away from them," coach Wayne Quinlan said. "The first -- and hopefully not the last -- Hilton Head team to go for a state championship."

The Seahawks spent the first several days of the 2012 season wondering if -- not when -- they would finally register a tally in the win column. But Hilton Head High, which started the year 0-3, responded by reeling off a startling 17 consecutive victories en route to its first championship trip to Columbia.

But the thrilling comebacks and exciting finishes that followed the Seahawks through the season didn't show up again in the finale. After registering an overtime win against St. James in the playoff opener and a victory days later over Chapin in penalty kicks, the Seahawks finally met their match in Fort Mill, the state's top-ranked team.

"We would be crying if we thought we came out here and didn't play our best or if we left something out there," MacMurray said. "We knew we gave everything."

Things looked to be business as usual for the Seahawks at halftime. Hilton Head High had erased a 1-0 deficit thanks to MacMurray, who helped pull things into a deadlock with a goal in the 31st minute before the teams headed to the locker room in a 1-1 stalemate. The midfielder took a pass from Bennett Murphy in front of the net before slipping through a pair of Yellow Jacket defenders and banking one in past freshman keeper Randall Phillips.

"We thought we were on top of the world and we couldn't be stopped," MacMurray said.

Added Quinlan: "You're feeling pretty good because now you can go in and talk about what we need to do and how we just need to pick it up and be more physical."

But things began to go awry midway through the second half, as the Yellow Jackets (25-3) tallied a pair of goals within a three-minute span to pull away.

It started in the 55th, when Jon Cutrone's shot attempt deflected off a Seahawk defender and over the head of keeper Mike Ritterbeck to give Fort Mill a 2-1 lead. Moments later, Kevin Fielden -- who scored the match's first goal in the 14th minute after streaking past a pair of Seahawks -- doubled the advantage when he lifted one over the head of Ritterbeck from 40 yards out on a free kick.

"We got an unlucky deflection on the second goal and it started to fall apart," Ritterbeck said.

That marked the end of the Seahawks' memorable season, who finished with a 17-4 record with a Region 7-AAA and Lower State championship in hand.

"We threw everything we could at them," Quinlan said. "We did create some chances, but it wasn't enough."

Hilton Head High now goes back to the drawing board, as Quinlan and Co. will prepare for a team that is losing seven starters.

But the bar has been set regardless. The Seahawks know they can get to the state's final game. Now it's about winning it.

"Hopefully it won't take three games to get them all in the right places," Quinlan said, laughing. "Who knows, maybe we'll pick up where we left off."

Fort Mill 3, Hilton Head High 1

Goals: Fort Mill -- Kevin Fielden (14th, 58th), Jon Cutrone (55th). Hilton Head High -- Chris MacMurray (31st).