PILOT MOUNTAIN — The East Surry soccer team is still adjusting to life without nine starters from last year’s team that finished the season as the state runner-up.
Cardinal head coach Mike Lowey believes he saw some positives from his team on Wednesday, but it still wasn’t enough. West Stokes used a solid defense and an opportunistic offense to easily hold off the Cards, 4-0.
“There were periods of time in the game today where we did well,” Lowey said. “But then we got away from it, we hold on to the ball too long and we lose possession in the midfield.”
While East Surry was inconsistent throughout the match, the Wildcats were a solid group from start to finish. The defense created an effective wall in front of their keeper, and the attackers used their speed to create goal-scoring opportunities.
Lowery pushes his team to use a high back line in the hopes of forcing the opposition into offside situations, but the Wildcats took advantage of this strategy.
West Stokes continuously lofted through balls into the air and above the East Surry defenders, allowing the Wildcat forwards to show their pace and create one-on-one opportunities against the Cardinal goalie, Ryan Sutterby.
“We started possessing the ball more, and it forced their line to come even higher,” West Stokes coach Andrew O’Neal said. “It was just kind of a situation where if we tried it enough, we would eventually break through.”
West Stokes actually got the scoring started just five minutes into the match when Cole Hornaday sent a Trent Washer cross into the back of the net with his right foot. From this point, East Surry looked like it might pull one back and tie the game.
However, West Stokes’ defense refused to give the Cardinals a clear shot at the goal. The Wildcats kept their advantage despite not playing great, and they eventually opened the floodgates.
East Surry’s high line started to falter with six minutes remaining in the first half. A long pass over the top of the defense found Hornaday, who used his blazing speed to beat the Cardinals’ offside trap. Hornaday was one-on-one with the goalie and scored with his left-foot.
“We’re trying to play that high-line because our new defense is still learning it,” Lowey said. “But (West Stokes’) defense was just so fast. They’re so fast up front that their speed wore our defense down.”
In the second half it was Washer who supplied West Stokes with its offense. The junior forward scored a very similar goal to Hornaday’s second 11 minutes into the second period to stretch the Wildcat lead to 3-0.
Washer chipped in another goal in garbage time thanks to an error from the East Surry defense.
Defensively, the Wildcats continued to force East Surry into possession well outside their own penalty box. The West Stokes goalie, Patrick Thigpen, only made two saves because of his back line’s ability to avoid any trouble.
“We’ve got some tough kids defending for us,” O’Neil said. “All across the board, they’re buying in to defending tightly. We’ve got a good athlete at the keeper, and we’re buying in to pressure on the ball and tracking the runs well, keeping it simple.”
East Surry continues to tinker with its lineup in the hopes of finding something that will be successful. There were stretches of Wednesday’s contest when all-conference forward Trace Simmons moved into a defensive position to provide his back line with some added speed.
Coach Lowery believes the experience and progression will eventually come this season, and the Cardinals will have another opportunity this Saturday against East Duplin in Cary to find the right balance.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16