GARNER — The scoreboard at Trojan Stadium showed a 2-1 win for the visitors well before the Clayton and Garner girls’ soccer teams stepped onto the field Wednesday night.
The seemingly premature tally wasn’t a scorekeeper error or even a prank. Rather, it was a not-so-subtle reminder from Garner coach Joe Dennis that the Comets had handed the Trojans their only conference loss, 2-1, one month earlier.
Garner was coming off an important road win the night before, and the scoreboard tactic helped the Trojans avoid a letdown as they beat the Comets 1-0 and put themselves on the inside track to a regular-season title.
“We put the score from last time on the clock during warm-ups to remind them, so that kept them motivated to want it,” Davis said, referring to his players. “That was one of my biggest concerns coming into this game.”
Down to 10 players after Heather Wilfong received red card with 27 minutes left in the second half, the Trojans got the job done on a set piece three minutes later.
Michaela Wycoff, who barely missed on a penalty kick one minute earlier, received a well-placed Bayleigh Adams corner kick, then flicked the ball up into the air before volleying it into the net for the game’s only score.
“Michaela brought it down, and the next thing I knew was there was a bulge in the net in the upper 90,” Dennis said. “It was a huge turnaround from missing the PK before that, and it was well taken.”
The Trojans (8-5-1, 8-1-1), who defeated West Johnston the night before, remained tied in first place in conference play with those same Wildcats with four games left to play. But Garner holds the tiebreaker thanks to the win and an earlier draw against West Johnston.
The Comets survived several great Garner scoring chances in the first half. Thanks to a couple of great saves from senior goalkeeper Lauryn Kabrich and the crossbar stopping another pair of Trojan shots, the two sides went into halftime tied 0-0.
“They’re a good team,” Clayton coach William Williams said of Garner. “I thought they outplayed us substantially in the first half but didn’t finish their chances.
“They got one in the second half on a set play. When you’re down a man, that’s how you get goals: off a set play.”
The Comets fought back in the second half and began to have more possession in the midfield. Clayton’s Lauren Daniels appeared to have put the visitors up a goal just five minutes into the half, but the goal was disallowed because of an offside call.
Daniels once again slid behind the tough Garner defense with three minutes remaining in the contest, but Trojan goalie Elizabeth Pittman came off of her line to stonewall Daniels at the last possible second.
Garner has allowed just five goals in 10 conference games thus far, with Pittman and defenders Sarah Dancausee, Shelby Fulkerson, Sarah Hamlin, Mikayla Marsich and Bailey Roque forming what amounts to an impenetrable wall at times.
The loss left the Comets (7-5-1, 6-3-1) in third place with a big game against West Johnston looming on the horizon in less than two weeks.
“I was proud of my girls; I don’t think they gave up an inch the whole game,” said Williams. “It was a typical Clayton-Garner game.”