PILOT MOUNTAIN — The East Surry Cardinals soccer team defeated Elkin 7-2 Wednesday to improve to 2-0. The last time the Cards started 2-0 was the 2013 season.
“It feels good,” Cardinal coach Neal Oliver said. “It’s a good start to the year. It’s good to see the guys playing as a team.”
Oliver, the 2017 Northwest 1A Conference Coach of the Year, took a team that went 0-17-1 in 2016 to the playoffs last season. Though the improvement has been gradual during Oliver’s tenure as head coach, he’s happy to see how the team is progressing both as individual players and as a unit.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is we’re more disciplined in playing our position,” Oliver said. “And our passing and touches are also immensely better than last year. A lot more passing this year instead of individual play.”
East started the game by making runs up the right sideline. Their attacks started on defense, with Jacob Lowe finding Edwin Hernandez in the midfield and Hernandez sending the ball to Leo De la Cruz on the front line. The Cards and Elks fought for possession for the better part of 10 minutes.
Elkin’s goal scoring opportunities were few and far between for the opening minutes. Despite a few runs, Cardinal keeper Ethan Casstevens wasn’t tested until a surprise counterattack by the Elks in minute 12. East Surry was caught off guard and just like that, Elkin was on the scoreboard 1-0.
The score was even soon after when Cruz headed in a corner kick from Nick Lowery. Two minutes later, Lowery earned another assist when Chris Osario connected with a corner kick to put East Surry up 2-1.
East Surry slowly gained momentum as they kept the ball in Elkin’s third of the field. Cardinal attacks could be seen up both sidelines, with the ball soaring just wide of the goalposts a number of times. Elkin was forced to play nine men on their own half to keep the Cards’ offense from running up the score.
With just 11 seconds left in the half, Anderson Alred jumped out of his cleats to get a corner kick from Lowery. Alred’s head soared into the net to give East a 3-1 lead. In a shocking turn of events, Elkin sent the ball deep into Cardinal territory on the kickoff and managed to score before time expired.
East went into halftime with a 3-2 advantage, a lead Oliver though should’ve been much greater.
“Tonight I think we came out too flat,” he said. “We didn’t play to our standards, we played to their standards. They’re going to be a good team by the year’s end, but we should have been playing much harder and much better early.”
His team listened and adapted going into the second half. Both Alred and Brady Jessup came out firing, nearly scoring on a number of occasions. Cruz even found the back of the net six minutes in, but the goal was rescinded due to an offside call.
Alred bagged his second goal of the night in minute 41 by redirecting a deflection near the 18-yard box. The lead increased to 5-2 when Alred and Lowery connected on another corner kick just minutes later. This gave Lowery his fourth assist of the game and completed Alred’s hat trick.
“Anderson (Alred) is our spark plug,” Oliver said. “He’s the driving force, he never stops, he does whatever we ask him to, and I think that energizes the other guys around him. They know that he’s going to make something happen so they’re moving and they’re ready for something to happen.”
Jessup added the nail in the coffin two minute later on an unassisted goal. If Jessup’s goal was the nail in the coffin, Cruz buried it when he controlled a long cross from Chavez and put it past the Elkin keeper for the final goal of the match.
The team’s 7-2 victory and 2-0 start to the season were worth celebrating. Come game time next week, Oliver wants his team to be all business.
When asked how his team can keep their momentum, Oliver said, “Well, we’re going to try to beat East Wilkes Monday. We don’t look too far ahead. The way our games are lined up, each one’s gonna be a little bit tougher than the last.”
East Surry (2-0) will host East Wilkes (0-2) on August 20 before traveling to Surry Central (1-0) on August 22.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith