CLAYTON — The rain and wind made everything tough for Smithfield-Selma and Cleveland Wednesday night but the elements didn’t prevail. Neither the Spartans or Rams did for that matter but both teams got something out of a 3-all tie played in a driving heavy mist and winds blowing across the Cleveland pitch as strong as 30 mph at times.
The result wasn’t all bad for either side. Although Smithfield-Selma (8-4-3 overall) suffered its first non-win in Two Rivers 3A Conference play (4-0-1), but a goal late in regulation kept the Spartans ahead of Corinth Holders (3-1-0) in the conference championship chase.
Cleveland (3-6-2 overall) enhanced its hopes for a playoff spot while staying at .500 (2-2-1) in the league.
Smithfield-Selma grabbed a pair of leads, the first coming just three minutes before the half when Rodrigo Sanchez fed a driving Harrison Howell in the middle of the field. Howell got around the Rams’ defense, then chipped the ball to teammate Oscar Villaneauva for a wide-open goal.
The Rams got right back even a minute into the second half when Nolan Stelzner dropped home a feed from Jhavonte Moon.
Smithfield-Selma senior midfielder Robin Barksdale earned a penalty kick eight minutes later, drawing a foul along the end line. Barksdale pushed the ball home on the PK for a 2-1 Spartan lead.
Stelzner answered again six minutes later for the Rams with Nick Brinke assisting for another tie.
Then, Cleveland claimed its first lead with 21 minutes to play in regulation when Brinke scored on a feed from Moon.
“From the start, we played as a unit using our drops and switching fields,” said Cleveland coach Fab Bonilla. “We had a hick up in the first half with not marking up and they scored. Throughout the game we played with intensity and toughness leaving everything we had on the field and having an answer for everything they threw at us. SSS is one of the best teams we’ve played this year, if not the best.”
SSS, a team with 15 seniors on its roster, refused to settle over the next 20 minutes of play. The Spartans put three solid shots on goal against Cleveland keeper Gio Solis but he handled each of them in the wet conditions.
“It was a great overall team effort,” Bonilla said, “with our seniors (Nolan Stelzner, Jhavonte Moon and Nick Brinke) leading the way. Gio made some great saves as well.”
But the final big Spartan push resulted in the equalizing goal. Howell drove the ball through the right side of the Cleveland defense before feeding to Ricardo Flores just in front of Solis. Solis had no chance to stop the shot and the Spartans were even at 3 with 6:45 to play. Flores played the ball after Howell’s pass was let through by Jose Jiminez who was also making a run at the SSS net, leaving Solis unable to commit to one of the onrushing players.
“I thought Cleveland played a great game, they were an organized team and really well coached,” said SSS coach Renato Freitas. “I also knew would be even hard because our team move the ball well and on those weather conditions make the passes not so accurate, we try to adjust through the game but we kept making simple mistakes that allowed Cleveland to find some great through passes.
“We were down to a few minutes to the end, but I had faith that our team was going to work through and find a goal to tie up.”
Scoring opportunities didn’t really come to fruition for either side in the 20 minutes of extra time, allowing Cleveland to avoid falling below .500 in the conference and SSS from taking its first league loss.
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