Clinton opened the NCHSAA 2-A soccer playoffs Thursday night against a familiar foe. The Dark Horses drew a first round match against cross county rival Midway and welcomed the Raiders to the Dark Horse Soccer Complex for the second time this season. The Dark Horses won the first two games against the Raiders by scores of 2-0 and 1-0 and knew that goals would be hard to come by against the defensive minded Raiders. This game looked to be headed in the same direction until Clinton used three second half goals to end the Raider’s season, shutting Midway out 4-0.
The Raiders came out swinging, attacking the Dark Horse goal in the first eight minutes of the game, and playing with much more intensity than Clinton. Midway banged a shot off the Clinton goal post in the third minute and kept a great deal of pressure on the Clinton defense in the early going. Clinton coach Brad Spell commented on Midway’s early flurry saying, “I thought we played great for the last 72 minutes. That first eight minutes Midway owned us. They came out with a little energy and a little pep and we were very lucky not to be down 2-0 right away.”
The Dark Horses slowly turned the momentum and in the eleventh minute found the back of the Midway goal for the first score. Spell Carr’s corner kick found its mark on the head of Peter Darden but his header banged off Midway goalie, Matthew Core’s hands, deflected across the face of the goal where Andrew Warren kicked the ball into the goal to give Clinton a 1-0 lead at the 11;15 mark of the game.
Both teams settled in and played very well defensively for the remainder of the first half. Core made several nice stops in goal for the Raiders keeping the match close, and the visitors in striking distance heading into the halftime break.
Early in the second half Clinton extended their lead when Ivan Palencia drove the ball deep into the box and sent a beautiful pass across the face of the goal where Ivan Ponce drilled in the Dark Horses second score of the night at the 43:46 mark. It only took a few minutes for the surging Horses to add to their lead as Ivan Palencia lofted a nice shot over the charging Core for a Clinton score in the forty ninth minute, giving the Dark Horses a 3-0 lead.
The Dark Horses rang the bell again in the fifty eighth minute when Corey Smith flipped a pass across the box, finding Peter Darden who toed the ball through heavy traffic and into the Midway net, giving Clinton a commanding 4-0 lead. The Dark Horse coaching staff took the opportunity to get every player on the bench into the game for some valuable playoff experience and to rest the starters for the second round.
After the game Coach Spell added, “after that first eight minutes I thought we played very good. We moved the ball well, got a lot of players in the game and they played well. We executed what we had been talking about against Midway. Midway is probably one of the two best defensive teams we have played all year. They compact the ball real well in the back, and keep themselves in the game. Once again it was hard to score against them tonight.” Spell continued praising Midway, saying “You have to give them a lot of credit, they don’t give up. We were a little nervous about this game because we are so familiar with them, its a game we are glad to have behind us and come away with the win”
While it was a disappointing end to a good season for the Raiders, head coach Allen McLamb praised his teams’ efforts against Clinton, saying “You have to give Clinton a lot of credit, they got their set pieces and scored that first goal, then came out strong in the second half, but our guys did not give up, they kept on playing hard and I am proud of their determination. They are a great group of guys, they are truly a family.”
The win moves Clinton on to the second round where they will host East Duplin, another familiar opponent. Spell spoke about the keys to the upcoming match, adding “we are going to go back and watch the film from our game earlier in the year. We got out quick against them scoring three or four early goals but we don’t necessarily expect that to happen on Saturday. They have a good midfield, a couple of really good key players. They are a quality East Central opponent coming up, we will have to be on our game to have a chance.”
Clinton is now 23-1-1 on the season as they move deeper into the playoffs. Saturday’s second round game is scheduled to kick off at 5pm. Coach Spell implored Clinton soccer fans to come out in force for the second round, saying “we need our fans waving those towels and making lots of noise on Saturday night. When the fans are behind us we have a real home field advantage.”