There could have been a big celebration after the Corinth Holders boys soccer team defeated Cleveland 4-0 at home Thursday as, with the victory, the Pirates clinched at least a share of the Two Rivers 3A Conference title.
There’s wasn’t, however, as the same focus that has led the Pirates to a 17-0 record (8-0 Two Rivers) is very much still at the heart of a team entering its final week of the regular season on a mission to remain undefeated. Even with the top seeding for the state playoffs from the league in hand (by virtue of their season sweep of Cleveland), the Pirates are pushing ahead —and for more wins.
First half goals from Derek Kaple and Dane Martin gave the hosts the early lead. A Justin Rogers penalty kick in the second half and a Cleveland own goal made it possible for the Pirates to enter their final week with a two-game lead over the Rams, a squad they now hold the tiebreaker advantage over thanks to the season sweep.
“The boys are focused,” Corinth Holders coach Brent Walston said. “They know what’s at hand and they know what we are trying to accomplish on the season.
“We’ve got a two game lead with two games to play. We can’t celebrate or do anything yet until we take care of matters next week.”
The first very important matter was scheduled for Monday at defending conference champions Smithfield-Selma. The match, coincidentally, was also scheduled to serve as the Spartans’ Senior Night.
The game, with everything on the line, would be close to impossible to gloss over but even more so for a Pirates team that has used the one game at a time philosophy to perfection this season.
“We always worry about the next game because that’s the next important thing for us,” Justin Rogers said. “That’s our number one goal right now. We just need to stay strong and stay together and keep our heads up.”
Keeping his players’ heads up will be the task for Cleveland coach Nicholas Gruhn.
Other than the two losses to the Pirates, the Rams (7-10, 6-2) have handled the rest of the conference with ease, outscoring their opponents 26-7 in those six games entering this week.
A pair of wins over South Johnston and Western Harnett this week would seal the No. 2 seed in the conference for Cleveland.
With the state 3A playoffs in the near future, Gruhn knows his team’s clashes with Corinth Holders will serve it well moving forward.
“They’re definitely more ready than they know.” Gruhn said. “Playing that team (Corinth Holders) there, they’re as good as anyone in the state. You’re not going to see much better than that.”
Leading the way for the Rams was junior goalkeeper Ethan Fellows who did his best to keep the game close with 16 saves.
Cleveland opened up the game on the attack and Markel Miles fired a hard shot at Corinth Holders keeper Christian Green in the first minute of the game. Green was up to the challenge, however, and his save led to a quick counter for the Pirates as Aaron Lopez freed Kaple behind the Rams defense for an easy goal less than 30 seconds later.
A corner kick led to the next goal for Corinth Holders as Dane Martin collected a deflected ball in the penalty box and volleyed it past Fellows for a 2-0 lead that would last until the second half.
In the second half, Kaple’s nice flick caught the Cleveland defense off guard and the Pirates’ Zach Blinson was taken down from behind in the box. Rogers then buried the penalty kick as he avenged a miss from the penalty spot a week earlier.
Rogers revealed what he believes to be another reason for the success the Corinth Holders soccer team has experienced thus far.
“We treat each other like family; we’re real close,” said Rogers. “We care for one another and it shows on the field because our chemistry and our passing—we’re always going to come out on top with that.”