Elvin Lazo couldn’t recall a bigger goal he has scored than the one that netted East Wake the Greater Neuse River 4A boys soccer title on Wednesday.
The sophomore scored off a nifty pass from Isaac Estrada with 6 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in regulation to lead the visiting Warriors to a 2-1 victory over West Johnston.
It was the eighth straight victory, all of those in Greater Neuse River play, for East Wake (14-6-2, 10-2-2 GNRC), which edged idle Knightdale (13-6-3, 10-3-1) for the conference title. Had East Wake lost, Knightdale would have won the title. A tie would have forced a tiebreaker game for the title between East Wake and Knightdale.
With the score knotted at 1, Estrada took possession after a throw-in from Khadeem Dublin and send a perfectly-placed pass between two West Johnston defenders ahead to Lazo in the box, who fired a shot past Wildcats goalie Jacob Maloney for the game winner.
“We went to the (state) playoffs last year but we didn’t get first place in the conference,” said Lazo, a sophomore. “Achieving that this year is great, and I’m glad I scored the last goal for my team, (especially) the seniors.”
After a scoreless first half, East Wake struck first early in the second half.
Deep in West Johnston territory, East Wake’s Vicente Gallardo attempted a header only to collide with a charging Maloney, the ball bouncing to a wide-open Conan Dharma who easily scored into an open net from about 12 yards out to put the Warriors ahead 1-0 with 36:49 remaining.
East Wake nearly made it a two-goal lead moments later when Lazo’s shot from 25 yards out hit the crossbar before West Johnston (14-6, 9-5) was able to get the equalizer with 28:32 to go when Austin Stephens scored off a rebound on a long shot from Christian Jacobs.
Both teams had good scoring chances – the best of those probably a free kick by Stephens from just inside the 30 that East Wake goalie Dennis Doranta stopped with a diving save near the right post – before Lazo’s game-winner.
“This is unbelievable,” East Wake senior Dublin said. “At the start of the year I thought we would be OK but we lost our key players from last year. We worked hard in practice and we played well in the games that mattered the most.”
East Wake had the better of the scoring chances in the early going, but it appeared West Johnston had secured the upper hand early when Luis Molina scored with 23:10 to go in the first half. However, the goal was waived off due to a foul called on the play, and though West Johnston’s play picked up significantly the rest of the way, the foul call eventually loomed large. “I thought we outplayed them, I really do,” West Johnston coach Luke Waddell said. “The way we played, the game was more traditionally more pretty than the way they played. They really exploited one player … and we couldn’t stop it.”
THEY SAID IT
“In 27 years of coaching, I have never been on a ride of three weeks like this,” East Wake coach Jonathan Hasbrouck said. “We were 3-2-2 in the conference, and then to go on this streak. There have been ups and downs. Vicente getting hurt and missing four games, Our guys found a new identity without him and when he returned his goal scoring continued and our back line has done a great job during this winning streak.”
THREE TO KNOW
Elvin Lazo, East Wake: In addition to scoring the game winner, he had several other scoring opportunities in administering pressure against West Johnston’s defense.
Eduardo Lopez, East Wake: The freshman midfielder shined both offensively and defensively, constantly finding himself around the ball throughout the entirety of Wednesday’s contest.
Austin Stephens, West Johnston: Scored the Wildcats’ lone goal and nearly added an assist on Molina’s goal before it was waived off.
Both East Wake and West Johnston will move on to the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs, with East Wake in line for a high seed after winning its first conference title since 2011.