SMITHFIELD — The ability to keep emotions in check enabled Smithfield-Selma ‘s soccer team to celebrate Senior Night with a 2-0 victory over county rival South Johnston Friday night.
The Spartans sent off seniors Holly and Heather Rabil, Kaitlyn Dacey, Itai Torres, Miriam Vasquez and Ericka Callejas, on a winning note and avenged a 1-0 loss to their Two Rivers 3A Conference rival.
Also, the win, the Spartans’ second straight and third in their past four outings, improved Smithfield-Selma to 4-10 and 3-6 in the Two Rivers Conference. South Johnston slipped to 3-9 and 3-6.
“I think Smithfield-Selma did good job of coming out strong,” said Trojans coach Jeremy Byrd. “It was obvious they were keyed up for this game.”
So much so the Spartans controlled the first half of the contest, allowing the Trojans’ two sustained possessions in the first 15 minutes, and only six in the half.
“Our defense has really stepped up in the past four games,” said Spartans coach Kristian Stewart. “They pushed the ball forward to the center-mids and the forwards in the past few game, and did so tonight too.”
Stewart said the Spartans’ defense started with Rabil, who pushed the ball up to the center midfielders, who in turn launched the forwards into the Trojan defensive third.
Generating a consistent attack started by the defense, the Spartans pressured Trojans goalkeeper Shaina Teats often, but the Trojans defense was up to the test, limiting Smithfield-Selma to four first-half shots. But it as the fourth shot that mattered most, when Morgan Eatmon made a run up the right side of the field, then blasted a right-to-left shot by Teats into the back of the net with 4:29 left in the half.
“We started the game by immediately putting pressure on South,” Stewart said. “We were using real good two and three touches in passing the ball forward.
“Our first touches were right on tonight. In the first game (against South), our touches were off and we lost focus. You have to have focus to play this game.”
The Spartans were able to keep their focus in the second half, particularly in the opening minutes following an emotional Senior Night halftime ceremony,
“I believe that girls can handle their emotions better than the boys,” Stewart said, explaining that in emotional matches, they boys tend to let their personal emotions flow into the match,
Any tearful emotion from the ceremony for the Spartans was quickly dismissed as SSS jumped to the attack from the opening whistle of the half.
Kara Harrison dried their eyes by lifting a rebound of a blocked shot just under the crossbar but over the head of Teat 2:40 into the period, pushing the margin to what would be the final tally in the 2-0 outcome.
The Trojans attempted to battle back, only to be thwarted by the Spartans midfielders and defensive backs throughout the half.
The Spartans out-shot the Trojans 9-1 in the contest and held a 5-4 edge in corner kicks.
Teats recorded four saves, while the Spartans’ goalkeeper, Carolina Carter, stopped South’s only shot.
“We were one breakaway away,” Byrd said. “If we could have gotten one, it would have changed the game. But we didn’t get it.”
“I believe I said at the first of the season,” Stewart said, “It was going to take time for our girls and that they needed to play and practice together to find the right combinations that would work or them.
“You could ell our seniors were really digging deep out there -- and our underclassmen were right there to back them up. From our last game with South to this one - that was the difference.”