CLAYTON — Playing without its leading scorer, Emily Truelove, for a night, the Cleveland girls soccer team looked for some other players to step up to keep the Rams’ rolling along against Smithfield-Selma Thursday in a Two Rivers 3A Conference game.
Courtney Morris came through with two goals and a pair of assists, while freshman Cassidy McNierney also supplied two goals in leading Cleveland to a 5-1 win over the Spartans.
“I was happy (with how we played). We definitely missed Emily tonight but other girls stepped up,” Cleveland coach Marissa DiMarco said. “I thought Courtney Morris played great, Cassidy McNierney played awesome and everyone got in tonight.
“We played well as a team.”
The Spartans, who fell to the Rams 9-0 earlier in the season, came out composed and kept Cleveland out of the net for the first 26 minutes of the contest.
McNierney gave the Rams the lead with 13:46 remaining in the first half as she was set up perfectly in front of the goal on a great cross from Morris and slid the ball under Spartan goalie Caroline Carter.
The two players combined again minutes later as a give-and-go between the duo ended when Morris found McNierney behind the Smithfield-Selma defense for an easy goal and the 2-0 lead.
Morris delivered what may have been the biggest blow to the Spartans with just 42 seconds remaining in the half, however, when she took a great feed from freshman Morgan Maxwell along the right wing and converted yet again for the three-goal advantage heading into the second half.
The Spartans, a much-improved team from the first time they took on the Rams, would not roll over, however, and started to possess the ball more in the final 40 minutes and began to work the ball into dangerous positions on the field.
Finally, four minutes after Morris notched her second goal of the game on a great individual effort, Smithfield-Selma (1-4 in Two Rivers) got on the scoreboard.
Parker Watson, who anchored the Spartans’ defense for most of the first half before moving into the midfield, took a free kick just past the midfield line and her long ball skipped in the penalty box where Leslie Paramo was ready and willing to knock home the deflected ball for a goal.
“She is definitely a presence,” Smithfield-Selma coach Kristian Stewart said of Watson. “She’s a chess piece; she can play anywhere on the field. She’s always one I can count on to move around some and change the look.”
The Spartans’ Kara Harrison and Holly Rabil began to exert their influence in the midfield and prevented the Rams from creating any serious scoring chances for much of the remainder of the second half.
Carter turned in a fine performance in goal and came up with 11 saves for the game.
“We’re obviously a much different team than we were the first time we played them,” Stewart said. “We’ve had some time to work the younger girls and they’re starting to put one and two together.
“We were a different team from the first half to the second half also tonight. I think that basically was just intensity, stepping up and playing more aggressive, and really playing up more to their level.”
Alexis McLeod tallied the game’s final goal in the closing minutes as her blast from over 30 yards out on a free kick found the top of the net.
Cleveland improved its record on the season to 9-4-1 and remained unbeaten in conference play at 7-0. With three league games remaining against Corinth Holders, South Johnston and Western Harnett, the Rams still have some tinkering to do over the season’s final weeks to get ready for the playoffs.
“Our first touch is our biggest worry as well as finishing in front of the net,” DiMarco said. “Our defense, I feel, is very solid. We should be good.”
The Rams have outscored their conference foes 41-4 thus far.