Like two chess masters battling through a long, tedious match, Cleveland and Smithfield-Selma’s soccer teams spent the majority of their Two Rivers 3A Conference battle looking for checkmate.
Moving pieces around the pitch like the Grand Masters do on a board, the Rams and Spartans checked and counter-checked until Cleveland’s Tanner Costine came through with the winning move with 8 minutes, 45 seconds left in regulation.
While Costine’s move wasn’t as simple as Queen-to-Knight’s Bishop’s 3, his one-timer from inside the upper left corner of the 18-yard box was enough to give the Rams a 3-2 victory.
Costine’s blast, which snapped a 2-2 deadlock, came on a cross from the right side of the field which he settled between a pair of Spartans defenders.
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Costine did a 180-degree turn in the box, then arched his shot towards the left side of the goal.
That shot eluded out-stretched Spartans goal keeper Christian Reyes for the winning margin.
“We were down 2-1 in the second half,” Costine said, “And Will (Hall) scored for us to tie it up. Then on my goal, the ball came out and I knew I had to get to it because there wasn’t a whole lot of time. there were two guys o me, so I pulled it back then let it rip.”
Costine said he had never hit a ball better than that.
The Spartans had one solid opportunity with less than five minutes to play to level the score at 3-all, but Cleveland keeper Ethan Fellows pushed aside one shot, but was unable to corral the ball.
SSS fired a rebound off Fellow’s save, but were denied when defenseman Dylan Bradford cleared the ball out of danger from just in front of the goal mouth.
Not only did Costine’s goal provide the Rams with their sixth win in their last eight matches in improving to 6-8 overall, it gave Cleveland no worse than sole possession of second place in the Two Rivers Conference with a 5-1 mark.
It also gave the Rams a sweep of the season series with the Spartans, who slipped to 5-8 overall and 3-3 in Two Rivers play.
The Rams defeated the Spartans, 4-2 Sept. 22 at Cleveland.
“This was a much different game than the last time we played,” Costine said. “They were missing one of their forwards and we were missing one of ours.
“They are both goal-scorers, so we were kind of playing back-and-forth. With both of those us missing, both of the teams were like different teams, so we were just trying to get a feel for our respective teams. We just happened to come out on top.
Missing for the Rams was Markel Miles, while the Spartans were without the services of Alfredo Martinez.
“We lost a lot of consistency without him,” said Spartans coach Raul Mentivar. “We had several forwards out, primarily Alfredo.
“He does a lot of things out there, so the kids were trying to work it out without him.”
“It was like a battle of wills out there,” said Rams coach Nick Gruhn. “They were going to have the ball more often but we had to take our chances.
“They are very strong in possession and very strong in attack. I feel we are very strong defensively and counter-attacking.”
The Spartans struggled throughout the first half, recording only three shots on goal - but it was Danny Avila’s 25-yard direct kick that sailed into the left side of the goal past Fellows that enabled Smithfield-Selma to take a 1-1 tie to intermission.
Avila assisted on the Spartans second goal of the night, which gave Smithfield-Selma a 2-1 lead.
Avila sent a right-to-left cross through the middles of the box, that Austin Young one-touched into the net with twelve minutes elapsed in the second half.
But it took the Rams only a minute to respond, when Hall finished on a rebound of a shot by Costine that had been stopped but not controlled by Reyes.
Both keepers stopped four shots, while the Spartans held an 11-10 edge in shots and 5-3 in corners.
Cleveland claimed its 1-0 first half advantage when Joseph Martinez headed in a corner kick into th left side of the goal 11 minutes into the match. That margin held until Avila’s goal off the direct kick.