Cleveland had had more than its share of heartbreaking one-goal losses this season before Thursday night. But this time the Rams broke through.
Lawson Lamm banged in a long shot from about 25 yards out on the right side, with Markel Miles on the helper in the 70th minute, giving Cleveland a 1-0 boys soccer result over visiting Clayton.
It was the Rams’ first win in seven tries for new coach Nick Gruhn, while their Johnston County rivals fell to 3-4-1.
“This feels great,” said Gruhn, whose team was outshot 6-3. “The boys have been working hard and we’ve had a really tough non-conference schedule. Even this game was playing up a classification. It was good to get a win going into conference play.
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“This was kind of the opposite of what has been happening to us. We’ve dominated some games and had something go the other way late. We got one to go our way for once.”
Cleveland, a member of the Two Rivers 3A which has not started conference play yet, had been 0-4 in one-goal games heading into the Clayton match. Clayton had won all three matchups with Cleveland last season, and this will be their only meeting this season.
“We just couldn’t finish,” said Clayton coach William Williams. “This was our third game in four days and maybe that affected us, but that’s no excuse.
“I think our teams were pretty evenly matched, and this was just the kind of game I expected. The lesson we should learn from this is to finish our shots.”
Ethan Fellows stopped the six shots in getting the shutout for the Rams.
“I think we just played strong all game and didn’t give up,” Fellows said. “We didn’t let anything get in. The teams were evenly matched and both teams had a lot of pressure, but we came out on top. Now we’ve just got to roll with this momentum.”
Cleveland had two shots on goal in the opening minute, and its only other was the winning goal off Cory Stricker who replaced J.T. Palazzo at intermission.
But Lamm came up with the late one that mattered. “I played it to the middle and (Miles) just played it over the guy,” he said. “I saw the opportunity to strike the ball and I just struck it. It just went our way tonight.
“This was a hard-fought game against some guys we know pretty well.”
Miles said he was happy just to be available for the setup. “It was kind of hard, but I saw Lawson open,” he said. “I saw where he was and kicked it right to him and he was able to finish. I think this win will help us get more wins. We just needed to get the first one.”