FOUR OAKS — Corinth Holders brought the pressure, on both offense and defense, and pulled away from host South Johnston Wednesday night for a 4-1 victory in Two Rivers 3A Conference soccer play.
Using an aggressive, pressing attack, the Pirates dominated action most of the evening in the battle of conference unbeatens on the Ronald Avery Stadium pitch.
With a dazzling one- and two-touch display, the Pirates possessed the ball for much of the first half, building a 2-1 advantage by intermission.
Then, after weathering an intensive counter-thrust by the Trojans for the first 17 minutes of the second half, the Pirates took control of the game once again and put the match away on goals by Grant Austin and Zach Blinson.
“Possession is the key to our success,” said Pirates coach Brent Walston. “We feel like we are capable of possessing the ball very well.
“They (the Trojans) did a good job. They were physical, they were aggressive, and they put us on our heels a little bit.”
The Trojans put the Pirates on their heels by answering Corinth Holders’ first goal of the night with a 23-yard free kick by Aaron Lopez just over three minutes into the match.
South Johnston answered that goal just one minute later, on a rebound blast from Alan Johnson, who blasted a shot by Pirates goalkeeper Christian Green after Green had fallen and failed to control a stop of a shot by Carlos Parra.
That goal came during the Trojans’ first sustained possession past midfield.
But after that, the Pirates began controlling the ball, out-attacking the Trojans by a 2-1 margin.
That increased pressure paid off as the Pirates took a 2-1 lead when Lopez sent a cross from the right sideline to Dane Martin, who headed the ball past Trojan keeper Luis Garcia with just under 14 minutes left in the half.
“I was pleased we got that second goal,” Walston said. “They (the Trojans) had responded very well to our first goal by scoring quickly. But we settled down late in the first half and were able to regain control of play.”
Not only did the Pirates dictate time of possession, but they held a 10-2 advantage in shots in the first half while amassing a 5-0 cushion in corner kicks.
“I told our team at halftime, we were being out-hustled,” said Trojans coach Rami Kuappi. “When you are playing a team that is that fast, you need to step it up. We did in the second half, but still, we didn’t have that many chances.”
The Trojans took the fight to the Pirates in the second half, playing a more physical, intense brand of soccer.
Unfortunately, the wind went out of the sails when Zach Blinson found Grant Austin just to the right of the goal, and Austin finished with 23 minutes remaining, giving the Pirates breathing room with a 3-1 lead.
“Once we got that third goal,” Walston said, “it opened things up.”
Lopez, Martin and Blinson all had a goal and an assist in enabling the Pirates to maintain at least a share of the Two Rivers Conference lead, improving their league mark to 2-0 while climbing to 9-2-1 overall.
“Martin and Lopez did a good job for us at center-midfield,” Walston said. “When we played the ball back to them, they were creating and opening things up for us.”
Blinson wrapped up the scoring with 11 minutes to play when he settled a dish from Martin and buried a shot by Garcia.
Walston praised the play of his defenders, including seniors Jamie Schap, Luke Sanderford, Kevin Rosales and junior Chason Karst, who turned back the Trojans attack.
“We try to play high pressure,” Walston said, “and try to bring the ball toward us.”
Kuappi saluted the efforts Garcia and midfielder Nobel Esquivel.
“Esquivel won many 50-50 balls for us at midfield,” Kauppi said. “And Luis made some big saves for us in the first half. We could have been down a number of goals at halftime if not for him.”
The Pirates ended the contest with a 16-8 edge in shots and 5-2 in corners. Green registered eight saves for Corinth Holders, and Arcia stopped six shots for the Trojans.
South Johnston slipped to 6-3-1 overall and 1-1 in conference play.