SMITHFIELD — The soccer match between Two Rivers 3A Conference unbeatens and Johnston County rivals Corinth Holders and Smithfield-Selma lived up to all expectations one would have in a battle for the conference lead.
Physical, emotional efforts were delivered by both squads, which entered with identical 3-0 conference marks and unbeaten streaks of six and five games, respectively.
When the final whistle blew, the Spartans walked off the pitch with a well-earned, 3-1 victory in a match both teams could be proud of.
Scoring opportunities were few and far between, but the Spartans made the most of their early chances, grabbing a 1-0 lead just under five minutes into the affair, when Joseph Williams Piota found Daniel Antonio Avila to the right of the goal crease.
Avila wasted little time as he ripped in a shot past Pirates goalkeeper Christian Green into the back left corner of the goal, handing the Spartans a 1-0 lead.
Eighteen minutes later, the Spartans (8-4-2 overall) increased that margin to 2-0 on a Kenny Pavon goal from the left side of the box on a cross from Harrison Howell.
“They (Pirates) were a lot quicker on the counterattacks than we were,” said Spartans coach Renato Frietas. “But we are a team, that even when we are winning, are creating ball attacks with our defense and moving ahead, not settling back.
“That is our style. If we sit back and let opponents attack, we probably will lose the game by sitting and waiting.”
Corinth Holders (10-3-1) tried to answer quickly, but luck twice went against Pirates’ junior forward Grant Austin, as he drilled two shots off the right goal post, prior to Pavon’s goal.
Moments later on a break up the right side of the field, Austin was denied a shot on goal when Rodrigo Sanchez caught up on a dead run and sent the ball over the end line before Austin could get a shot away.
“It happens sometimes,” said Pirates coach Brent Walston. “But it’s a scorer’s mentality. You just have to keep on shooting.
“Grant has it. He eventually got one, and we felt he would get another one – but he didn’t.”
Austin’s goal followed Sanchez’s defensive gem on the succeeding corner kick, when he headed in the serve from Zach Blinson with 8:34 left in the half, trimming the Spartans’ advantage to 2-1.
Emotions increased throughout the match, from the benches to the pitch and even the massive turnout of supporters that lined the fence on one side of the field and a good portion of the players’ side.
As the game went on, with those emotions at a fever pitch and the game officials trying to maintain control, a group of overly vocal spectators were removed from the players’ side of the pitch behind the Spartans bench to the spectators side of the field.
Opportunities were few and far between in the second half, with the Pirates managing three shots and the Spartans two.
Both coaches agreed the second half was played in the middle of the field and on the outside, with very little play at the defensive ends.
Corinth Holders saw its best opportunity for a tie come with 14:44 left to play.
Controlling the ball up the right side of the field, the Pirates sent a trio of attackers toward goalkeeper Felipe Silva Carranza.
Carranza held his ground, taking the ball off the foot of a Pirates attacker for the save of the game.
“We turned the corner well,” Walston said. “And we got right there. Our player hit the ball with his right foot rather than with his left.
“He turned at an angle, leaning to his right because he was left-footed.”
Ninety seconds later, the Trojans got the insurance they needed when Howell finished on a ball that got away from Jose Luis Jiminez, and shot off a defender by Robin Barksdale.
Howell gathered the ball and hammered it into the upper right ninety for the 3-1 final.
“They (Spartans) did a good job tonight,” Walston said. “They outscored us, they out-quicked us in places. A bounce here, a bounce there. They earned this win tonight.”