SMITHFIELD — Even with a couple weeks of conference play still remaining, it was obvious that when the Garner and Smithfield-Selma boys soccer teams took the pitch Wednesday night, each team knew what was at stake.
Coming into the game, the two teams were positioned at the top of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference standings and a win would give whichever team earned it a leg up down the stretch run.
Ironically enough, in a pivotal game that could eventually help determine first place in the league, it was the second touches that helped Garner earn the season sweep over the Spartans with a 4-1 win on the road.
The Trojans consistently won possession of the ball that came as a result of the initial 50-50 plays and took advantage of some chances after the Spartans had their feet on the ball first.
Garner took the lead in the 12th minute after the Spartans failed to successfully clear a Trojan corner kick. The result was Salvadore Joya slotting a pass across the face of the goal to Marco Perez who easily directed the ball into a wide open net.
Substitute Zach Hancock doubled the lead 15 minutes later when he regained possession after the Spartans initially held up the Trojans’ counterattack started by Tom Dinka and beat Spartan goalie Daniel Uriostegui.
“I felt they came out and hustled the way I needed them to hustle,’ Garner coach Jon Sherwin said of his team’s effort. “That’s one of the things we’ve worked on is making sure that we’re more hungry to win that ball than they are.
“Any ball is a free ball and we don’t stop until the ball is in the back of the net.”
The Trojans added a little breathing room in the ninth minute of the second half when the hustle of Taylor Stephens on a Smithfield-Selma back pass to goalkeeper Daniel Uriostegui saw the ball ricochet off of Stephens and into the goal when Uriostegui tried to clear it.
“We made so many mistakes and they took advantage of them,” said Spartans coach Renato Freitas. “They’re a team that plays similar to the way that we play but they played better than us today.”
Smithfield-Selma got on the board when Oscar Villanueva beat his defender on the wing, carried the ball along the end line and found a wide open Kenny Pavon in front of the goal for the Spartans’ lone goal of the evening, cutting the lead to 3-1.
But unfortunately for the Spartans, their attack would not be as easy the remainder of the second half.
Rather than taking advantage of some open space in front of the forwards and playing to feet, the Spartans often relied on the long ball to create its offense.
“We were not playing the simple ball,” said Freitas, “We tried to play that long ball to the forwards but we’re not a big team.”
When the Spartans (9-5-1 overall, 4-3-1in conference) did manage to maneuver the ball into striking distance, Garner goalkeeper Kenneth Perkinson was up to the task with four of his five saves coming in the second half.
Garner’s Luis Resendiz capped off the scoring for the Trojans when he banged home a loose ball at the top of the penalty box off of a Spartan defender and into the goal.
The parity of the league won’t allow the Trojans (10-2-1, 7-2-1 GNRC) a chance to relax as they make their push to win the regular season conference championship.
“We don’t have any easy games,” added Sherwin. “I feel that every game is up (for grabs) for whoever comes out to play.
“Nothing is set and every game counts.”