A rocket in the opening minutes and a blue-collar grinder in the closing seconds made the difference for West Johnston on Monday night.
Luis Molina scored his sixth goal of the season in the 11th minute, while senior classmate Jordan Warren added the clincher with 1:23 left in a 2-0 non-conference soccer victory over county rival Cleveland.
The victory improved the Wildcats, members of the Greater Neuse River 4A, to 3-1. Cleveland, which belongs to the Two Rivers 3A, fell to 2-3.
The Rams’ junior goalie Austin Myrick was spectacular at times between the goals, finishing with 16 saves.
West leads the all-time series 7-2. The teams had split their meetings last season.
“We moved the ball better than we have all season,” said West coach Luke Waddell, whose team has 16 seniors. “That was fantastic. And we created great chances. I can’t complain about the way we played or the way we worked. Everything was right except we just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net because of the way (Myrick) played.”
Warren’s clinching goal, from about three yards out on a follow shot in traffic.
“That was great,” Warren said. “It’s always a dream goal to have in a rivalry game like that. I think having so many seniors together gives us great chemistry. We just need to keep it up.”
THEY SAID IT
“West is senior-laden with plenty of experience,” said Cleveland coach Nicholas Gruhn, who has four seniors on his roster. “They’re a good squad. Our effort was good all night. We were there. We had our chances and we built all night. Our goalie stepped up and played hard.”
THREE TO KNOW
Luis Molina, West Johnston: The senior forward, who leads his team with 13 points, took a pass from Michael Hewitt and beat Myrick on a 25-yard blast.
“We moved the ball around well,” Molina said. “We just need to work more on our finishes. We’ve got a chance to win conference if we dominate the way we did at times tonight, but we have to finish.”
Jordan Warren, West Johnston: The senior midfielder stayed with a rebound in traffic for his second goal of the season to clinch the win for the hosts.
Austin Myrick, Cleveland: The junior, in his first year in varsity, made numerous tough saves to prevent the Wildcats from winning in a blowout.
“I was just trying to keep my mind on the game and not listen to the talk,” Myrick said. “There’s good intensity in all the Johnston county games. We really picked it up a lot in the second half and generated more chances. They had more speed than us, but we were able to stay with them.”
BY THE NUMBERS
8: Saves by West goalie Jacob Maloney in the shutout.
11: Second-half shots from West.
13: Points from Luis Molina this season.
16: Consecutive saves Myrick made between the West goals.
West visits South Johnston on Wednesday, then takes a seven-day break before its conference opener at Rolesville.
Cleveland’s game at Southern Nash on Thursday is one of five more games before the Rams’ conference opener against Triton on Sept. 26.
The West-Cleveland rematch is Sept. 29 on the Rams’ home turf.