KENLY — You could see the frustration on the faces of Cleveland’s girls soccer team as it walked off the North Johnston High School soccer pitch at the end of the first half of its semifinal match with Clayton in the Four Oaks Bank Cup tournament.
The Rams booters were outwardly complaining that they had been pushed, pulled and tackled without the benefit of a foul being whistled against the Comets, and were on the short end of a 1-0 score.
The reaction from Rams coach Marissa DiMarco? Deal with it.
Take the attack to the Comets, as they have taken it to you.
Bolstered by that information, as well as a few adjustments by DiMarco during the break, Cleveland came out and took the fight to the Clayton, stunning the Comets with three second-half goals then weathering a late rally for a 3-2 victory.
The triumph sent the Rams into the championship for the first time ever, where they will meet two-time defending champion West Johnston, a 9-0 winner over Corinth Holders in the second semifinal.
The second half saw Cleveland display a newfound intensity, matching the Comets’ aggressiveness.
“Clayton is a very good team,” DiMarco said, "And we weren’t used to their type of physicality. But our girls definitely came back with a little fire under them for the second half.”
That newfound style opened up the field for the Rams, and they took advantage, breaking through what became a porous defense with goals in the 53rd, 62nd and 63rd minutes.
All three goals were long-range blasts by the Rams, with Courtney Morris tying the game with 27:15 remaining after taking a pass from Emily Truelove, making a run up the left side of the field, while falling down on the play.
Cleveland continued to assert itself over the ensuing 10 minutes, and was rewarded with a pair of long-range blasts from the right side of the field.The first - and go-ahead goal - came with 17:48 to play, when Truelove received pass from Sara Ginn and sent screamer past Comets keeper Lauryn Kabrich for a 2-1 Cleveland lead.
Seventy-five seconds later, Monique Torres received what would be Truelove’s second assist of the night, depositing the ball into the net from almost the same spot.
“We got some leadership from our upperclassmen,” DiMarco said. “Our sophomores and freshmen stepped up to make it a team effort.”
But the Comets refused to roll over, taking over the offensive for the 16 minutes, with attack after attack against the Rams goal, finally rewarded when Everett Biggs made a run up the right side, turned in and beat Rams keeper Kaitlyn Lowery with 12 :15 left in the match, drawing Clayton within 3-2."We never should have let that second goal go in," DiMarco said, "And let them (Comets) back into the match. But we were able to hold them off the rest of the way."Despite Biggs’ take charge offensive, the Comets managed to hit the crossbar once, but Lowery was able to deny another score the remainder of the match.