Clinton hosted Eastern Randolph for a third round NCHSAA 2-A soccer match on Thursday evening. The match was a rematch of last year’s second round game that was won by the Wildcats eliminating the Dark Horses from the playoffs. This time around the Dark Horses made sure they didn’t fall victim to the Wildcats by scoring early in the game then adding to their lead to take the eventual 5-1 win and advance to the fourth round of the playoffs for the third time in school history.
Andrew Warren opened up the scoring for the Dark Horses when he knocked in the first goal in the sixth minutes off a nice assist from Spell Carr. The Dark Horses didn’t wait long to strike again, when Andrew Warren stole the ball from a Wildcat near midfield. Warren quickly passed the ball to a streaking Ivan Ponce who drove the ball into the box where he was taken down by a Wildcat defender who also seemed to dive onto the ball to prevent the sure goal. Spell Carr stepped up and nailed the resulting penalty kick in the fourteenth minute to give Clinton a 2-0 lead and effectively put the game away.
The Eastern Randolph player was issued a straight red card, disqualifying him from the game and leaving the Wildcats shorthanded for the remainder of the game. The teams settled in and played a defensive brand of soccer for the rest of the first half, sending the teams to the break with Clinton holding their 2-0 lead.
Clinton added to their lead very early in the second half when Spell Carr picked the pocket of an Eastern Randolph player near midfield, passing the ball quickly to Ivan Ponce who found Ivan Palencia. Palencia found himself one on one with the Wildcat goal keeper, and slid a shot into the right corner of the Wildcat net and Clinton had a 3-0 lead just twelve seconds into the second half.
The Dark Horses struck again less than eight minutes later when Spell Carr found Palencia with another beautiful pass that Palencia sent into the Wildcat net. Palencia’s second goal of the night came at the 47:14 mark to put Clinton up 4-0 and send the Dark Horse fans into a frenzy.
Clinton got one more goal when Bailey Spell took and assist from Peter Darden at the 68:14 mark putting the game even further out of reach for the Wildcats. The Wildcats would finally get a goal with less than two minutes remaining to when Mauricio Gomez picked up a deflection off a corner kick and send it into the back of the Dark Horses’ nets. The late goal was cut the Dark Horse lead to 4 goals at 5-1, but was far too little to late for the visiting Wildcats.
After the win Clinton head coach Brad Spell said, “we moved the ball real well again tonight. We had a couple of really good practices this week and then at 4:30 this afternoon Zack Valenti, a former player came in and talked to the team. Zack gave them a great motivational speech and helped them realize that we had to be focused on tonight’s game and not look ahead. We came out and took care of business early when Andrew Warren knocked that early goal in, and we just really took control of the match from that point on.”
Spell did begin to look ahead to the fourth round where the Dark Horses will face Washington the on Pam Pack’s home field, adding “This will be the third time we have made it to the fourth round. We lost to East Duplin in 2011 and then lost to Carrboro in the final minute of the game in 2013. The guys have a chance to take it to another level on Saturday night. Washington is a high powered offensive team, they have scored 176 goals this year, that is the most by any team in any classification in North Carolina while only giving up 16 goals. They will be a challenge for our defense. We will have to play at a very high level to have a chance against them.”
The win over Eastern Randolph moves Clinton’s record to 25-1-1 on the season and advances them to the fourth round of the playoffs for the third time in school history. A win over Washington would put the Dark Horses in the Eastern Regional Finals for the first time ever and would give the Dark Horses one more home game this year. Kickoff for Saturday’s game will be 6:30pm at Washington. Coach Spell encouraged as many fans as possible to make the easy two hour drive to Washington to support the Dark Horses.