With the number of offensive chances the Cleveland boys soccer team generated Wednesday night in its 3A state playoff opener against visiting Northern Nash, erasing a one-goal deficit would have seemed almost a certainty.
Unfortunately for the Rams, those chances did not lead into goals and Cleveland dropped a hard-fought match to the Knights 1-0.
Tyler Jones netted his 11th goal of the season just 12 minutes into the game on a rebound shot after the Rams’ Ethan Fellows made the initial stop on Sammy Cervantes. Fellows managed a touch on Jones’ effort as well but the ball still landed in the back of the net.
Cleveland could not find the same fortune on a night defined by near misses and great saves from Knights’ goalkeeper Tristan Marshall.
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Marshall came up big with 12 saves, and the crossbar played almost as big a role in denying the Rams a chance to tie the game as four times Cleveland shots that beat Marshall ricocheted off the crossbar and away from danger.
“They’re pretty good defensively and they have a good goalie,” Cleveland coach Nicholas Gruhn said. “We started to press a little bit, trying to make up that goal right away instead of trying to be patient.
“We had our chances in close where we could have put one in and taken a lot of pressure off of us, but it just didn’t quite come.”
Lawson Lamm’s long runs out of the midfield led to plenty of scoring chances for the Rams. Markel Miles and Josue Perez each fired shots that deflected off the crossbar and Miles hit a lofted shot from distance early in the second half that beat Marshall but landed on top of the net, inches away from dropping in.
Joseph Martinez made his presence felt in the second half in his outside left midfield position and worked with Tanner Costine, Lamm and Perez to create some dangerous forays into the attacking third only to be turned away by the Knights’ solid defensive unit.
In the 57th minute, Martinez hopped on a loose ball in front of the goal and fired a shot towards an otherwise open net only to have Northern Nash’s junior defender Josh Collart get in the way and absorb the blow before clearing the ball away.
Fellows did his part for the Rams as the junior goalkeeper stopped seven shots himself to keep the deficit to just one goal.
After beginning the season winless in its first six games, the young Cleveland team with just two seniors on the roster—Gabe Roman and Jacob Ventruella—held it together to hit its stride as the Rams (9-11) started conference play.
The best may then be yet to come for Cleveland
“It’s been extremely positive,” Gruhn said of his experience in his first year coaching the Rams. “Our goal was to win seven conference games and we got to eight. We’re an extremely young team this year and we’re only going to lose two guys.
“We had a new formation, we had about half of a roster to replace from last year and they continued to get better as the year went on.”