WENDELL — It’s not how you start out, it’s how you finish.
With that in mind, East Wake’s resurgent soccer team posted its second Greater Neuse River 4A Conference win in as many days, holding off Southeast Raleigh, 2-1 in blustery, damp conditions.
The Warriors, who enhanced their playoff hopes by improving to 5-7-1 overall and 5-5 in the GNRC, know their post-season hopes lie in their own hands.
“This was a game we really needed,” said Warriors coach Michael Howes. “They beat us the last time we played them (a 3-2 outcome Sept. 16).
“So if we can return the favor to the teams that beat us the first time around, I’ll be very pleased.”
The Warriors missed out on one of those opportunities against Garner a week ago, letting a 2-1 second half lead slip away in a 3-2 loss.
But East Wake has two more opportunities to avenge losses with upcoming matches against Clayton and Knightdale.
Howes hopes his team can run the table in its remaining schedule, which includes matches with West Johnston and Harnett Central, teams the Warriors have once defeated.
“If we can finish strong, “ Howes said, “I would like to be able to represent our conference in the playoffs.”
If Wednesday’s effort is any indication, the Warriors have a strong chance to do just that.
East Wake dominated first half play, spending a majority of the period on Southeast Raleigh’s side of the field.
The Warriors, behind the play of strikers Luis Chavez, Victor Romero, Johnny Odette and defensive back Jamante Smith, kept the Bulldogs defense honest and on its toes throughout the half.
Despite the continual thrusts, the Warriors were unable to generate many scoring chances, managing just three shots on goal in both halves.
But the ones that counted – one in both halves – came off the feet of Chavez, and the hands of Smith.
Chavez’ first goal came midway through the first half, when Smith lobbed in a throw from 35 yards out on the left sideline.
That throw landed outside the right side of the goal crease, and Chavez boomed the ball past Bulldogs’ goalkeeper Eric Noden for the only score of the half.
The duo clicked again 14 minutes into the second half, countering a thrust by the Bullldogs.
This time, Smith threw the ball across the field from the right sideline, where Chavez one-timed a blast into the left side of the net for a 2-0 Warriors lead.
“Luis is our high goal scorer, and Jamante can throw the ball,” Howes said with a chuckle. “So that worked out pretty well.”
After the second goal, the Warriors found themselves facing a different Bulldogs team than the one they had battled in the first half.
This unit played as a unit, not like the squad that had been on the pitch in the first 55 minutes.
“We were not very organized in the first half,” said Bulldogs coach Michael Michalakis of his team’s performance. “We were trying to play individual soccer. When you do that, then nothing is happening.”
While there were flashes of brilliance in the first half, producing three shots on goal, the Bulldogs, who fell to 8-5 overall and 6-3 in the GNRC, couldn’t break through the Warriors’ defensive backfield of Will Clements, Jon Adams, Odette and Smith.
“We began playing as a team in the second half,” Michalakis said. “And we had the ball on their defensive side most of the second half. But it was a game that was played in the middle of the field, and we like to get the ball on the outside.”
The Bulldogs picked up their intensity, and finally broke through when Travis Jones found Dennis Beltran Fuentes in front of the goal with nine minutes to play.
Southeast Raleigh followed that goal with several more thrusts, only to be denied.
“Our team game was not too good today,” Michalakis reiterated. “And when you play a team as good as East Wake is, an individual type of game will not get you very far.”