Union County’s defense, timely scoring leads to Final 4 run

The Panthers have had an unforgettable season. In the past, Union County has been known to be a team to put up a high goal count to win games. This 2023 version under legendary coach Tim Hunter goes about it a different way — controlling the time of possession and striking when the opportunities are there.

After a third straight 1-0 win in the state playoffs, the Panthers are in the Final 4 for the first time since their State Runner-Up finish in 2019. They’re getting it done with incredibly stifling defense and opportunistic scoring.

Union County has gone 12-3 overall and went 3-2 in an insanely tough Region 8-AA that included themselves (#3-ranked team in the state at one point), #1-ranked Providence Christian, and #2-ranked Fellowship Christian. That’s quite the region. No wonder Union fell to a 3-seed despite nearly all other opponents.

Union County has posted 6 total shutouts, including 3 straight here in the postseason. Their loss to #1 Providence on March 10 was a 2-1 final, and a 6-3 loss to #2 Fellowship came on March 24. Aside from that, a season-opening loss to #2 Coahulla Creek (Class 3A) was the only blemish.

Once in the bracket, the Panthers have used back-to-back-to-back 1-0 wins, all on the road. That started with a 1-0 win at #10-ranked North Murray, with Benton Gregory finding the back of the net on a helper from Zuriel Mancillas. In the Sweet 16, it was Mancillas who came up with the overtime goal (assisted by Gregory) to get Union past the #9-ranked Walker Wolverines.

Now in the Elite 8 on Tuesday evening, Evan Bohms tallied an unassisted goal in the first half, and the defense buckled down to secure the 1-0 win over #6-ranked Putnam County. Next up will be Tattnall County, again on the road for the Panthers.

Tattnall got a huge 4-1 upset win over Fellowship Christian, and as a reminder that might bode well for Union, who lost 6-3 to Fellowship in region play earlier this season. Tattnall is a #2-ranked team in one state poll and #4 in another, so it will make for 4 straight ranked opponents on the road for the Panthers.

Union continues to play incredible defense with 22 goals allowed through 15 matches, which is 1.5 per game. The 46 goals scored (3.1/game) isn’t eye-popping, but it’s more than enough with the way the defense plays.

Union will take on Tattnall County on Friday, April 28.

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