It was a long time coming for both a program and also a team comprised primarily of seniors, so it was somewhat surprising how composed the Smithfield-Selma boys soccer team was during its 4-0 opening round victory over Pikeville C.B. Aycock Wednesday night, Oct. 30.
But now that the Two Rivers 3A Conference champions won their first playoff game since 2005, they have designs to stay awhile.
Robin Barksdale and Joseph Williams each had a goal and an assist for the No. 5 seeded Spartans (14-4-3) who were set to host Southern Nash on Saturday night in the second round of the 3A state playoffs.
Smithfield-Selma took advantage of what the Golden Falcons gave them: open space in the midfield and numerous free kicks, a result of an aggressive style of play from the No. 28 seed out of the split Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference.
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Daniel Avila put the Golden Falcons on their heels in the 18th minute when he was taken down in the box after he pushed the ball around a defender to one side and raced around the other side to collect and shoot. Barksdale converted the penalty kick and the Spartans were out and running.
Smithfield-Selma was forced to remain composed as the fouls piled up, but nothing would take the Spartans out of their game.
“We’re used to this kind of play because we play in a tough conference,” Robin Barksdale said. “We’re used to physical play. We have a great team and our boys are ready for everything.”
Seven minutes into the second half, Williams found a lot of space in the middle of the field as he received the ball and turned to face the goal. The midfielder let loose a blast from 30 yards out that ricocheted off the left goalpost and in for the 2-0 advantage.
“From the beginning of the game when I wasn’t getting many passes in the middle (of the field), I saw all of the space they gave behind me,” Williams said. “So I knew whenever I would get a pass there that I would have that space behind me and all I would have to do is just strike it.”
Smithfield-Selma continued knocking the ball around all over the pitch, switching fields, and wearing down the visitors.
Thanks to great conditioning and a deep bench, the Spartans were able to play their game.
“Since the beginning of the season, Coach Freitas had taught us how to keep our composure, how to switch the ball and how to play as a team,” Williams said, referring to head coach Renato Freitas. “We all knew from the beginning of the year, how we were going to play.
“We just play our game. That’s what we call it, we play ‘our game’ and that’s how we play.”
The Spartans closed out the game in the final minutes on a goal from Avila and another penalty kick from Rodrigo Sanchez.
Felipe Carranza earned the shutout and came up big with two point-blank saves against Juninho Sanchez and Zachary Zacharzuk in the first half that came as a result of a pair of Bobby Hampton long throw-ins.
Assistant coach Earl Marett, who, along with Kristian Stewart has taken over the reigns for head coach Renato Freitas after his move to Florida a week before, dedicated the win to Freitas and credited his influence on how the Spartans played Wednesday night.
Marrett credited the senior class and their hard work over the past four years as being vital to the turn around: “We’ve taken some lumps these past four years but they’ve never quit, they played in the off-season and they developed their skills. This is one of the most selfless teams I’ve ever seen. To have kids with that kind of character is just a blessing.”