WENDELL — After battling through an evenly-fought first half, the Clayton boys’ soccer team eventually found room to run in a 5-0 victory over East Wake on Oct. 16.
With the score knotted at zero for the first 38 minutes of the match, Clayton sophomore Brandon Sainz finally found the back of the net with the halftime break looming. The Comets (15-3-2, 10-1-1 Greater Neuse River 4A) rode the momentum provided by that goal, adding four unanswered scores in the second half.
“We had the two quick goals in the second half, and I think it worked on them,” Comets head coach William Williams said in reference to tallies from Sainz and senior Chase Jones in the first three minutes of the second half.
Injuries played a large part in East Wake’s loss. The Warriors (6-9-1, 6-6) only had two substitutes on the sideline, and they were missing a pivotal midfielder in sophomore Johnny Odette, who came down with appendicitis after delivering the game-winning assist in overtime against West Johnston two days earlier.
“We have players who can step in,” said Warriors head coach Michael Howes, who was faced with the challenge of replacing three scratches from his lineup. “I just don’t think we put together a very good second half.”
Clayton took advantage of the short-handed Warriors, substituting frequently as the game wore on. The many pairs of fresh legs, Williams believes, were the difference on Wednesday night. Senior Alex Owens relished the change of pace.
“In previous games we’ve been down and had to fight back,” Owens said. “With games like these, it’s nice to get a lead and work on some things.”
One of those things was playing on an unfamiliar field. The Comets only have one conference loss on the season. While they hope to earn a home playoff game, they must be prepared to take on an opponent away from their home turf. Sainz said playing on East Wake’s crowned surface served as a good learning experience.
“It was a hard surface to get used to,” Sainz said. “We have a really flat field, but once we got used to (East Wake’s field), which took long enough, we did what we needed to do.”
Williams said the road win was a confidence-builder, especially against a team like East Wake that is exceptionally difficult to defeat as a visitor. With only two regular season games remaining, Williams hopes his team can use the win to gain ground on Garner, who currently leads the league with an undefeated record.
“I think we should pretty much shut out the rest of our competition, if we’re lucky,” Chase Jones said.
On the other side of the ball, East Wake is far from dead in the water. Teetering on a .500 record in the conference, Howes hopes his team can rebound from Wednesday’s loss and make a late-season surge.
“I’m not sure where this puts us in the standings,” said Howes, whose Warriors now rank fourth in the eight-team league. “I’m hoping we can win the last two games of the season and maybe be able to compete in the postseason.”
His players believe it will happen, too. Sophomore Luis Chavez beamed confidence despite his team’s five-point margin of defeat.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Chavez said. “I think we have a strong enough team to do it. We will pick up from this loss.”