Connor Norton-Baker saved some of his best soccer for the last few weeks of his high school career.
After scoring three goals in the final two games of the regular season, the Socastee senior went on to score six more in two of the Braves’ four playoff games, something that played a role in his team snapping a four-year streak of second-round losses in the Class AAA playoffs.
Norton-Baker, the Toast of the Coast Boys Soccer Player of the Year, finished the season with 27 goals, 10 assists, a Class AAA All-State nod and a spot on the North-South All-Star Soccer roster.
“All the important games are at the end of the year, and that’s when they need to be scored,” he said. “If you can’t do it at the end of the year, it doesn’t matter as much.”
His overall tally was a product of maturity on the field, he said, adding that a stint on a North Carolina-based premier team pushed him to new heights.
That was evident in his production level.
Norton-Baker nearly doubled his scoring output from his junior season. And as he piled up points, the Braves did just the same with victories. Socastee’s season ended at 20-3, and only after a loss to eventual Class AAA state champion Hilton Head in the Lower State finals.
“Connor is a very unique soccer player,” Socastee coach Memo Suarez said. “He’s very quiet on the field, and when he’s on, he’s on. When he’s off, he produced [by] helping others. He’s productive all the way around on the field.
“So much of our accomplishments have to do with him. He was a very quiet captain, but he did extremely well leading our team.”
Socastee spent a portion of the season ranked No. 1 in the Class AAA statewide polls. While a midseason loss to Myrtle Beach knocked the Braves off the top spot, they were never far behind.
In the limelight of many of those victories was Norton-Baker.
He was the offensive focal point for a team loaded with talent, including fellow Toast of the Coast selections Dimitri Leftis and Will Caswell. Together, they led Socastee to a Region VII-AAA title – its first region championship since 2008 – and its first trip to the Lower State finals since 2007.
Even with all the goals, though, Suarez said keeping Norton-Baker humble and hungry wasn’t an issue. The senior and Coker College commitment adjusted to double and even triple teams.
On the off chance opposing teams were able to slow down Norton-Baker, he was either slid back to midfield or used as a decoy up front in an attempt to open up opportunities for others.
More often than not, though, opposing players weren’t able to do that.
“As a team, we wanted to win games. It wasn’t me scoring goals that won us games,” he said. “People got me the ball in dangerous situations.”
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