Even though Thursday’s boy’s soccer contest between Laney and Ashley was just the second conference match for each side, the game had a late season feel to it as both teams battled for the full 80 minutes of action.
After two goals apiece over the early stages of the first half, the aggressive play continued into the second period. While the Screaming Eagles trailed after David Dailey tallied his second score of the night, Ashley found the back of the net twice in four minutes of play to grab a key 4-3 result in Buctown.
“I couldn’t be happier with how the guys hung in there,” said Ashley first-year Coach Greg Marinich. “We’ve got to shore up some things defensively without a doubt, but when we were possessing the ball it was a different ball game against a really good team like Laney. The first time I saw them I quickly realized they didn’t have a weakness on the field and there’s no real place to exploit, but it was going to be mano a mano tonight.
“It’s kind of interesting you see some of our top goal scorers working hard tonight and getting back up and it opens things up for other people.”
Zack Smith found the equalizer to record the hat trick in the 48th minute by finishing a loose ball off a free kick to tie the game three-all, while Drew Walters knocked in the game-winner three minutes later with a beautiful touch across frame to extend the Screaming Eagles season-opening win streak to nine straight.
“It meant something special considering one of our guys went down and remembering the 7-4 loss in the playoffs to them last season,” said Smith. “We never really doubt ourselves having gone done early in games this season. We have to play as a team, re-collect and move forward.”
It was Ashley that came out firing off the opening whistle as Smith put the Screaming Eagles on the board just two minutes into the match after being awarded a free kick. Juan Bernardez sent a ball from right-to-left when Justin Balderson found the crossbar to give Smith an easy put away for the 1-0 advantage.
Laney responded in a big way to take a 2-1 lead after Dailey picked up his first goal on an assist from Wesley Nelson. The senior forward flicked a long throw-in to his classmate, who buried the opportunity from just inside the 18-yard line. Tristan Nelson gave the Bucs the go-ahead goal in the 11th minute by finishing a pass off the head of older brother Wesley Nelson. Jackson Young found space outside the penalty area and sent a beautiful cross into the box to set up the score.
“Ashley played well tonight, got some breaks and we came up just short,” said Laney Coach Jamie Noble. “We talked before the game about focusing on this game and not letting the win against New Hanover earlier this week give us a hangover because we were facing a quality team. I was proud of the response and thought the first half was pretty level.”
The cushion wouldn’t last long as Ashley won a corner kick and Smith’s header in the 14th minute off the foot of Diego Abraham set the stage for a dramatic finish.
While the entertaining match moved the Screaming Eagles to 2-0 in conference and 9-0 overall, both teams suffered key injuries. Ashley lost Bernardez early in the match with a knee injury, while Wesley Nelson exited minutes into the second half and did not return.
“Of course with a player like Juan, we miss his speed and some of the things he brings to our team,” said Marinich. “But, the good news is I look to my bench and I’ve got guys I can pull and plug and play and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Trailing by one, the Bucs had a few chances late with two corner kicks in the second half. A cross from Tristan Nelson was also punched away by Ashley goal keeper Ryan Keller as the Screaming Eagles held strong down the stretch.
“Losing a guy like Wes definitely hurts from a lineup standpoint, but it was ours to win,” Noble added. “We have some things to clean up and when you get these in-town games you know it’s going to be intense. It was a great game and too bad somebody had to lose, but I’m still really proud of the way our guys fought and worked after playing really hard the other night at Legion Stadium.”
Laney saw its nine-game unbeaten streak come to an end as the Bucs suffered their first setback, falling to 1-1 in league play and 7-1-3 on the year. Both teams get back on the pitch on Tuesday, September 22.
Team: Goal (Assist)
Ashley- Zack Smith, 2’
Laney- David Dailey (Wesley Nelson), 8’
Laney- Tristan Nelson (Wesley Nelson), 11’
Ashley- Zack Smith (Diego Abraham), 14’
Laney- David Dailey, 45’
Ashley- Zack Smith, 48’
Ashley- Drew Walters, 51’