By their own standards, Clayton came out flat when it hosted rival Garner in an important midseason Greater Neuse River Conference tilt between the league’s only two unbeaten teams Thursday night.
However a goal just before halftime gave the Comets (12-1, 6-0) the lead before they exploded for a handful of more goals in the second half to dust off the Trojans, 7-2.
Garner (5-6, 5-1) dominated the opening 25 minutes of play, creating scoring chance after scoring chance, but was unable to build on a one-goal advantage afforded to them when Kiara De La Torre recovered an early Clayton clearance and roofed the shot underneath the crossbar just seven minutes into the game.
Two late first half goals gave the Comets the halftime edge, however, and Clayton got things rolling offensively in the second half, scoring five goals in a 23-minute span.
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“They came out off of a big game yesterday and they came out with a lot of energy and we were more flat,” first-year Clayton coach Brian Stevens said. “It took us a long time to find any intensity.
“The second half, obviously, was a whole different ballgame.”
After falling behind a goal early on, Clayton had stemmed the tide a bit when Everett Biggs pounced on a loose ball at the top of the penalty box and found the back of the net to tie the game in the 28th minute.
However, when Lauren Daniels earned a free kick 25 yards out from goal in the half’s final minute, the Comets finally took control of the game. The senior took the kick quickly and, after the ball ricocheted off a couple of players in the penalty box, Holland Mills was in the right place at the right time to direct the ball into the back of the net.
“We got real lucky with the late goal (in the first half); it was the real turning point,” said Stevens. “It allowed the girls to take a deep breath and once they took a deep breath and started playing more their game, the scoring opportunities on the other end started to occur.”
Three to watch
Lauren Daniels, Clayton: Daniels was asked to step up at halftime and the senior delivered a dominating second half performance. Daniels began to control the middle of the field and began to find her forwards in stride, creating a lot of dangerous forays for the Clayton attack. Daniels scored a pair of goals and had two assists in the second half offensive explosion.
Holland Mills, Clayton: Mills’ ability to successfully take defenders on in one-on-one situations was a big part of Clayton’s success in its attacking third of the field. Mills scored two goals and had two assists, the second one coming after she beat her defender on the wing and sent a perfect cross to the far post where Daniels was waiting to head the ball home.
Grace Bondurant, Garner: Bondurant’s speed and diagonal runs off the ball caused problems for the Clayton defense attempting to track her down. The junior set up several great scoring chances, one resulting in teammate Kiara De La Torre’s opening goal, and also did a great job pressuring the Comets’ back four when attempting to transition the ball to midfield. Bondurant also scored Garner’s goal in the second half on a penalty kick.
They said it
“I think we had our opportunities and had a lot of good sequences,” said Garner coach Jennifer Enyeart. “The score, I feel, doesn’t really show how well we played in the first half and the control we had there for awhile in the game but you’ve got to put together two good halves and we didn’t do that.”
Logan Haag, Clayton: The Comets senior goalkeeper was credited with 16 saves on the night but it was her two stops against Bondurant from close range in the first half that prevented the Trojans from taking a 3-0 lead.
Haag came off her line to snuff out Bondurant who got in alone on goal in the 17th minute and then again stopped the speedster when she attempted to beat Haag up top from 15 yards out.
By the numbers
23: Goals on the season for Clayton’s Holland Mills.
23: Goals the Comets score in three matches this week: wins over West Johnston (11-3), Rolesville (5-0) and Garner.
16: Goals for the year for Garner’s Grace Bondurant.
7: Consecutive wins for the Comets.
2: Times Garner’s freshman defender, Lauren Marting, helped to clear potential Clayton goals out of the six-yard box.