GARNER — After playing 100 minutes of scoreless soccer, Garner and Clayton both came away with positives following a 0-0 tie in their Greater Neuse River 4A Conference girls soccer opener on Monday night.
Clayton (1-1-1) broke a three-year string of losing its first conference game to Garner (0-2-1).
“I want to win as bad as anybody, but this is the first time in four years that we haven’t lost to Garner in our first (conference) game,” Clayton coach William Williams said. “You hate to look at a tie as a good thing, but when you go on the road with as young a crowd as I have with only two seniors and one junior … we held our own with some young players out there tonight.
“I’m tickled with it. They are upset about it, they don’t like to tie. But you have to look at the positives. And tonight we had some positives.”
For Garner, which had given up nine goals in its first two games, including a 5-0 loss to Cary on March 7, the defensive improvement was dramatic.
“We were kind of humbled on Thursday with that 5-0 game,” Garner coach Joe Dennis said. “I told them to come out here with a lot of enthusiasm and that is what they did. We will build on that.
“It’s an all new back line from last year, and they are getting used to playing together.”
Turning point: Seven minutes into the second half, Clayton’s Everett Biggs got a through ball and was one-on-one against Garner keeper Elizabeth Pittman. Biggs’ point-blank shot was headed toward the net, but Pittman moved to her right and plucked it out of the air. As it turned out on a night when neither team could buy a goal, that could have been the difference-maker.
“It’s important that you catch that ball,” Pittman said. “I almost knocked it, but instead I caught it. When you catch it, other people can’t come and get it. I think it would have been a goal if I had hit it away.”
Highlight reel: Garner junior Bayleigh Adams and Clayton freshman Chelsie China both put on a show of speed all night, racing through the opposing defense. Each player had some quality shots on goal but could not beat the opposing keeper.
Unsung hero: Garner junior Brooke Povich started at center midfielder in place of senior captain Micaela Kymer, who injured her knee last week against Cary, and played well, Dennis said.
“Brooke Povich stepped in and she controlled it, pulled the strings for us,” Dennis said “She moved the ball for us and she broke up their offensive plays a lot. She did exactly what I asked her to do.”
For Clayton, senior Ashley Sainz moved from midfield to the back line in the second half when Garner was turning up the heat offensively and helped solidify the Clayton defense.
“We have a solid defense, but my right side was giving up a little bit,” Williams said. “They were really nailing my keeper at the start of the second half so I moved (Sainz) back there and she made a difference.”
Putting up numbers: The number that mattered was zero in the goals column for each team. But it was something of a misleading statistic on a night when both teams went back and forth, trading shots and great defensive plays.
What worked: For Garner, there was improvement on both offense and defense. Offensively, the Trojans were able to keep possession by keeping the ball on the ground and moving it crisply at times.
For Clayton, the defense was able to withstand a barrage of offensive pushes by the Trojans. Sainz and junior keeper Lauryn Kabrich were the standouts on defense.
What didn’t work: The Trojans just couldn’t find a way to get the ball in the net on a night when they had a lot of quality opportunities. They hit the post several times and had several shots sail just over the goal. In the second overtime, Hannah Hamlin sent a rocket toward to the top right corner of the goal but it hit the crossbar.
“We worked extremely hard the whole night.” Dennis said. “They didn’t fall for us tonight but that is not going to happen every night. As long as we keep getting those chances, they’ll go in.”
Clayton’s offense was hurt by a lack of experience, Williams said. “Big thing I have to work on with my girls is they have to get it off their foot. They have to pass quicker.”
Best quote: “Both teams had some nice chances, some quality chances,” Williams said. “It was a hundred minutes of hard fighting out there. Both teams played their hearts out. That is the way it always is when we play Garner.”