Last season, the Cleveland boys soccer team defeated Corinth Holders in the final week of the regular season to claim the Two Rivers 3A Conference title.
After a 1-0 defeat over the Pirates Wednesday night, the Rams entered their last game of the regular season this time around needing just one more win to share the title with the Pirates.
Avenging an earlier 1-0 loss to Corinth Holders (15-4-2 overall, 9-1 Two Rivers), the Rams (11-5-3, 8-1) absorbed a lot of Pirates possession and pressure in the opening half but remained organized defensively and waited for the right time to strike on a counterattack.
That opportunity came in the 26th minute of the first half when Cleveland defender Bailey King won possession of the ball and then quickly switched the field and sent a long, diagonal pass for teammate Joseph Martinez to run onto down the left wing.
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Martinez outraced one defender to get to the ball before splitting two more to work himself into a dangerous position inside the penalty box. He then crossed the ball to Hunter Lee at the top of the six-yard box, where a retreating Pirates defender inadvertently knocked the ball into his own net for the game’s only goal.
The Pirates had a majority of the possession but, except for a couple good chances on goal, Corinth Holders had a difficult time working the ball into dangerous scoring positions.
THEY SAID IT
“Sometimes you’re up against it and you just have to defend and we did a great job staying organized, getting to the ball and making the next play,” said Cleveland coach Nicholas Gruhn. “It’s hard, mentally, to defend for that long and not give up any against a good offensive team.
“Consistently against good offensive teams, we’ve been able to limit them and that’s a big strength of our team.”
THREE TO KNOW
Joseph Martinez, Cleveland: The senior captain’s speed to get to the long outlet pass from King was impressive but his dazzling run through the Corinth Holders defense was worthy of a goal.
“Our center back Bailey (King) played me and I saw the run and didn’t stop,” said Martinez. “Fortunately I won the ball and I went near post, then I snaked a guy and hit a low cross into the middle and they hit it in.”
Austin Myrick, Cleveland: The junior goalkeeper for the Rams helped to shut out the Pirates with five saves – with none bigger than his point-blank stop of Alexis Avila in the 71st minute, who worked himself free behind the Rams defense. Myrick was also huge in handling the Pirates’ numerous crosses and punching balls away from danger.
Jacob Meierer, Corinth Holders: Meierer was calm on the ball all game for the Pirates and did a good job clogging up the middle of the pitch.
Cleveland midfielder Reis Yu was effective on the left wing for the Rams and especially so in the second half when Cleveland was able to find more of the ball, giving its defense some respite.
BY THE NUMBERS
9: Games Corinth Holders had won in a row coming into the game against Cleveland.
6: Goals conceded by Corinth Holders in Two Rivers action this season.
2: Times Cleveland defenders cleared the ball off the line, with Logan Blankenship’s effort to keep Alexis Avila’s header out of the net late in the second half being especially crucial.
The Rams are scheduled to follow up their huge road win with another crucial matchup at Smithfield-Selma Thursday night. A Cleveland loss would allow the Pirates to claim the regular season title outright. A Rams win would mean Cleveland and Corinth Holders will share the title and a tiebreaker yet to be determined would need to be employed to decide which side would enter the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs as the conference champion.
For Corinth Holders, the Pirates hope the sentiment that it’s almost better to lose a game to end a long win streak before entering the playoffs than to enter the postseason on an unbeaten run comes true.
“You hope that this is one that you can learn from and build from,” Corinth Holders coach Brent Walston said. “We’ve got some things to improve on and things to learn from and you’d rather do it now than next Saturday or after that.”