CLAYTON — Every once in a while, a solid first half turns out to be enough to win a soccer game.
And that’s how Clayton got it done Thursday night at Johnston county rival Cleveland.
Sean Kimble and Nick Christianson each scored their first goals of the season in the first 27 minutes, lifting the Comets to a 2-1 victory over the Rams.
It was the second win for Clayton (4-1-1) over the Rams this season, following a 3-1 victory in the semifinals of the JUSA Cup. The two teams will play again at Clayton Thursday.
Cleveland (1-5), which belongs to the new Two Rivers 3A Conference, lost its third straight one-goal game to a member of the Greater Neuse River 4A.
The Rams lost despite a spectacular outing from junior goalie Gio Solis, who had 18 saves. Clayton senior Jackson Keener was solid in an eight-save performance.
“I told (Solis) he played amazing,” said Clayton coach William Williams, who is also the veteran girls’ coach and moved into the boys’ varsity job this season following the departure of Tommy Gruhalla. “He stopped a lot of quality shots. I know that’s going to do them real well in conference.
“We got a lot more offense than we’ve had lately and still we just got two goals. We’ve had really good communication, and we were without the best defensive player in the conference (Chase Jones, out following a red card against Fuquay-Varina). I know these guys are talented; I think everybody can see that. I don’t think 4A vs. 3A means a lot in Johnston County. This is all backyard stuff.”
Cleveland coach Fabrizio Bonilla said what the Rams are lacking is consistency.
“I told our guys when we put two good halves together, we’re a good team,” Bonilla said. “We can keep up with the Claytons and West Johnstons. We can see the top of the hill, but we just can’t get over it right now.
“If there’s a 3A vs. 4A thing now it’s just mental. We can compete with anybody if we play two good halves. Solis has had great games all season long.”
Kimble scored the first goal in the 16th minute, scoring from the left side of the box off Brandon Sainz’ corner kick.
“It was just bouncing around and I got an opportunity,” Kimble said. “There was a wide-open gap and I put it right in the corner.
“We have great defense without Chase, and when he comes back we’ll be even better.”
Christianson doubled the lead in the 27th minute, firing a rocket of a free kick past Solis into the right corner of the goal from about 18 yards out.
“I had just come in, and I had one great shot – that’s about all I can say,” said Christianson, who is also the kicker for the Comets’ football team. “We’re doing really well, playing together as a team now. Cleveland is a good team and played us tough. It’s a big rivalry.”
Cleveland got its goal in the 54th minute, as Nolan Steltzner won a battle on the doorstep and poked the ball past Keener.
“It wasn’t my best game,” said Solis, who has played goalie for 10 seasons. “I don’t think I was at the top of my game in the first half. But we got it together at halftime. I really picked myself up mentally and I did the best I could. I think our team is moving forward. If we keep that up, eventually we’ll be where we need to be.”