Clinton hit the road Saturday night for their fourth round NCHSAA 2-A playoff match against the Pam Pack in Little Washington. The fans that made the trip to Beaufort County were treated to an intense and very physical soccer match. The high scoring Pam Pack jumped out to an early lead, putting up three first half goals, then held off a furious second half charge by the Dark Horses to take a 3-1 win and advance to the Eastern Regional Finals.
Washington drew first blood in the 25th minute when they scored off a set piece. The Pam Pack sideline throw in crossed through the box where a Washington player struck a shot that rebounded in front of the goal and was stuck in by another Pam Pack player for the 1-0 lead. Just three minutes later in the 28th minute, Washington moved the ball deep into the Dark Horses end of the field, overloaded the right wing and got an open shot that flew past the Clinton goal keeper and into the left corner of the Dark Horses’ net.
Clinton finally showed signs of life when Ivan Palencia toed a beautifully place pass to Andrew Warren who was streaking down the sideline. Warren dribbled the ball several yards toward the corner and drilled a shot to the far post that handcuffed the Pam Pack keeper and cut the Washington lead to 2-1 in the 32nd minute.
The home team went right back on the attack pushing the ball deep and keeping the Dark Horses on their heels. In the 37th minute Washington raised the ante once again, getting a man free for a laser like shot from 25 yards out to push the lead back to 3-1. The Horses were able to hold off the Pam Pack for the remainder of the half and went to the break trailing by two goals. Clinton coach Brad Spell commented on Washington’s fast start, saying “we knew coming into the match that they like to hit you early, and you have to give them a lot of credit. They are a really physical go after the ball hard team, and they went after the ball a little harder than we did in the first half.”
The Dark Horses obviously used half time to make some adjustments and came out in the second frame looking like a different team. Clinton played much more aggressively, possessing the ball for a big part of the second half and getting numerous scoring opportunities but were just unable to get the ball in the net.
In the 45th minute Peter Darden got past a Pam Pack defender on the left wing and fired a shot that looked to have caught the Pam Pack keeper out of position. But the shot slammed off the near post and back into the field of play. This play pretty much summed up the second half as the Dark Horses saw several scoring chances sail just off the mark and the Pam Pack held up well on defense to protect their lead and take the 3-1 win, ending Clinton’s season two games shy of the coveted state title.
After the game coach Spell added, “we had out chances in the second half. If we could have finished on the shot that banged off the post early in the second half it would have been 3-2 and really would have changed the dynamics of the rest of the game. It’s just very unfortunate, shots on goal were pretty much even but I think their physical play, and their grit in going to the ball threw us off guard tonight. When they pumped in 2-0 on us early we had not seen that all season and had to really regroup and figure out how to come back. We made some adjustments in the second half. We had some chances but they are a good team, probably the best we have faced this season.”
While he was obviously disappointed Spell did realize that his team had a great season and did not minimize that fact, saying “I am proud of my guys, we have had an extremely successful season. When you win 25 times and only lose twice you have had a pretty good season. You hate for it to end but it was a great journey, they will go home and hurt for two or three days, maybe even a week but these guys will look back on this season and realize they did something really special this year. They have no need to hang their heads.”
It was a special season indeed. The Dark Horses wrapped up the 2015 campaign with a final record of 25-2-1, winning the Four County Conference crown and advancing to the fourth round to be one of the final eight teams standing in the state playoffs. Spell concluded by adding, “as a coaching staff we were really blessed to be a part of this team, it has been a great ride and I look forward to doing it again another year.”