CLAYTON -- During the 16-game win streak that the Cleveland girls soccer team brought with it into the first round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs, the Rams proved to be no match for their opponents.
In that impressive 60-day long stretch, Cleveland outscored its opponents 102-9, posted 11 shutouts, won both the regular season and tournament titles in the Eastern Carolina 3A and only once, in a 3-2 win over C.B. Aycock, were tested.
The Rams received their first test in some time when they hosted Havelock Tuesday night and in the end, Cleveland was not up to the challenge as its special season ended with a 6-2 defeat to the No. 4 seed out of the Coastal 3A Conference.
Havelock’s dynamic duo of Natalie Johnson and Dominique Martinez wrecked havoc in Cleveland’s defensive third of the field all night as Martinez tallied two goals and an assist and Johnson added two goals as well.
“They were the much better team tonight,” Cleveland coach Marissa DiMarco said of Havelock. “I felt they were a great team. Martinez up top and Johnson in the midfield were outstanding players.
“We haven’t seen competition like that all season really.”
Things started out well enough for the Rams early on as Cleveland (18-2) controlled the run of play, won most of the 50-50 balls and leading scorer Emily Truelove made several promising forays into the penalty box.
But the Rams’ inability to get on the scoreboard first would come back to haunt them.
In the 13th minute, after the visiting Rams won possession off of a Cleveland goal kick, Taylor Self led Johnson with a perfect pass in the box and the junior midfielder found the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Six minutes later Martinez was the recipient of a similarly well placed through ball from Erica Quinn and gave Havelock a 2-0 lead as she tucked the ball past Cleveland goalie Katelyn Lowery.
The visitors dominated play for the next 40 minutes and built a 5-0 lead before Cleveland finally responded.
Emily Truelove netted her 56th and 57th goals of the season, the second of which resulting from a nice give-and-go from Monique Torres, within a span of three minutes to pull the host Rams to within 5-2, but the high scoring Rams were unable to claw any closer.
“They wanted it more which was disappointing especially with the kind of season we’ve had,” DiMarco said of Havelock. “It just comes with the competition and not being challenged.
“We were a very talented team, it’s a shame to go out like this.”
Lowery ended the game with 11 saves for Cleveland.
Havelock (15-7) was scheduled to face fellow conference opponent Jacksonville White Oak in the second round after the Vikings took down another member of the Eastern Carolina Conference, Triton, 9-0 in the opening round.
Cleveland loses just one senior heading into next year’s debut season in the newly configured Two Rivers 3A Conference but there will be some big cleats to fill.
Torres, who ended her senior season with 14 goals and 42 assists, served as the heart and soul of the Rams.
“The way she plays in the midfield, the way she works, the way she distributes, her work ethic…she is every coach’s dream on the field,” DiMarco said. “We’ll miss her next year.”
Torres, who will play her soccer next season at Greensboro College, leaves the Rams in a good place and is appreciative for being part of the foundation for such a promising program.
“It was awesome,” said Torres, reflecting back on her high school career. “To start off the school, obviously there were ups and downs to it especially with us having to start from scratch.
“It was hard but it was definitely worth it.”