Garner Cleveland: Sports

Rams blank Pirates, remain perfect

Winners of eight of their last nine games entering Thursday night’s contest, the Cleveland girls were playing some of their best soccer of the season.

Against Corinth Holders, the Rams were once again in top form, blanking their guests 8-0 to improve to 8-0 in the Two Rivers 3A Conference with one week remaining.

Emily Truelove tallied four goals, Courtney Morris had two goals and an assist, and Cassidy McNierney continued her great play with a pair of assists as Cleveland put on a display of all its strengths.

Cleveland coach Marissa DiMarco said finishing at the goal has been her squad’s Achilles’ Heel this season. But the Rams were efficient against the Pirates on Thursday.

“Finishing is all we’ve been focusing on the past couple practices,” DiMarco said. “This was our first game back from spring break, and it was nice to see that we actually finished.”

Late in the first half, Alexis McLeod fired a free kick over the outstretched arms of the Pirates’ Lauren Keiser to provide Cleveland a 3-0 lead at halftime. But it was a five-goal barrage over a 12-minute span in the second half that broke the match wide open.

The Rams have now outscored conference opponents by a staggering 49-3 margin. They have just two opponents – South Johnston and Western Harnett – between them and an undefeated conference regular season.

The Pirates pushed the Rams to the limit in their first encounter this season – a 3-1 Cleveland win in overtime. But Corinth Holders had no answers Thursday night.

“We were ready to play, but it just didn’t come out; it was just one of those deals,” said Corinth Holders coach Alison Vetterl. “Today just wasn’t our day.”

The Pirates, whose only conference losses this season have come at the feet of the Rams, pounded the Cleveland goal in the second half in an attempt to get back in the game.

Bailey Hadding and Bella Iorio began to establish themselves in the midfield and helped to create several scoring chances for Corinth Holders.

Felice Hewitt, Summer Mitchell and Taylor Stevens all made forays into the penalty box in the final 40 minutes of play and seemed poised to put the Pirates on the scoreboard.

But Cleveland goalkeepers Katelyn Lowery (eight saves) and Georgi Babechenko (three saves) came up big to preserve the shutout for Cleveland.

“To be honest, we scored a few goals, which may have put them down, but they are one of the best teams in our conference,” DiMarco said of the Pirates. “Our goalies made some great saves, but they had their chances; they are definitely a quality team.”

The Pirates, at 8-3 overall and 5-2 in Two Rivers action, are fighting for second place in the conference. They have big games this upcoming week against Smithfield-Selma and Erwin Triton (twice).

“We still have a lot to play for,” Vetterl said. “I told them that they can’t hang their heads and we just need to bounce back next week.

“We just need to forget about this one and move on.”

Madison Reid accounted for the other Cleveland goal in the first half after a nice pass from Hannah Evans sprung her free behind the Corinth Holders defense.