Central again thorn in EHS side

By Allen LaMountain
ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
alamountain@starhq.com

   BLOUNTVILLE -- A first-half shot deluge trailed off into not even a trickle on Thursday evening as the Elizabethton Cyclone soccer squad fell to nemesis Sullivan Central 1-0 in the Region A-AA championship match.
   EHS finished the 2002 season with a 10-7-3 overall mark and a trip to the Region finals, while Central's unbeaten season continues on to the next round as the Cougars improved to 17-0-2 overall.
   'Betsy dominated play in the first half, sending eight quality shots at Central goalkeeper Daniel Graves, but came away empty, while the Cougars were held to just two shots.
   "They beat us to nearly every 50-50 ball in the first half," said Cougars head coach Joe McPherson. "But, just like they have done the last several games, my defense stepped it up. Bucky (Buchanan), (Stephen) Daffron, all those guys did great."
   The second half saw EHS unable to put even a single shot on the Cougars goal, although Jonathan Cook's header struck the post late in the contest.
   Unfortunately for the Cyclones, Central's Brett Smith was able to nudge the Cougars second shot of the contest past EHS keeper David Poston for the only score of the match.
   Central was awarded a free kick just outside the mid-field stripe and Ben Wright launched a missile toward the Cyclone net, where a half dozen players had settled in, jostling for position.
   Smith was able to out-leap the crowd, and Poston, for the ball as he directed it into the 'Betsy net to give Central the lead for good.
   "We had one like that a few weeks ago and I scored on that one as well," said Smith. "Ben delivered a good ball, and I just finished it. Winning today was a real big step for Central soccer. A lot of us have played together since youth leagues and we all played competitive coming up."
   McPherson was pleased with going in at the break with a lead despite being outplayed, saying: "I would have been happy to be a goal down with the way we played in the first half. The wind was a big factor and EHS dominated the first half. It didn't seem like we could cross mid field with the ball."
   Things changed abruptly for the Cyclones in the second half as Central came out in full attack mode, reversing their stagnant first half play, with some inspired offense.
   Poston, other than the first half goal, was stellar in the second half for EHS, as he almost single-handedly kept it a one-goal match. Twice in the second half Poston made diving stops and then sprawled out on the ground made the save on the rebound as well.
   "Poston made two good saves that kept us in it," Cyclones head coach Bill McClay stated. "(Central) did that to us earlier in the season, capitalizing on rebounds, but Poston and the defense did a good job.
   "We wanted to take Campbell out of the game, and I think we did a good job of that. It put a lot of defensive responsibility on Luke (Carrier), but he was up to the task."
   The defense in front of Poston was solid as well, despite the loss of talented freshman Jeff Alman who was injured against Gatlinburg-Pittman on Tuesday.
   Andy Ross, Lincoln Orellana and Alex Fries all played exceptional defense, and Gavin McKinney stepped in and played well as Alman's replacement.
   Campbell, the Watauga Conference MVP, was held in check by tenacious defense by Carrier and the rest of the EHS defense, but Campbell said: "It didn't frustrate me. I have been man marked all season, and getting the first goal was great. We came out a little slow and they were ready to play, and they dominated the first half. Getting that goal was a big boost for us."
   McKinney's absence from the front line, may have hampered the Cyclone scoring, as he has been a big part of the EHS offense since coming back in mid-season from an ankle injury.
   "We had gotten a lot of offensive production from Gavin up front," said McClay. "But with Jeff going down we needed someone back there with experience, and what Gavin did was he stepped in there and did what he had to do. I thought about moving him forward in the second half, but I had no one with any experience on the bench that could play on the backline."
   With their prep playing days now finished, Michael Tierney and Carrier said that their experience playing soccer at EHS was: "A growing process, both as a team and as individuals. Every year we have gotten better and better."
   Cyclone notes: It will be a much different EHS soccer squad that takes the field next season as 'Betsy will graduate 12 players from it's roster. Good luck in the future to the Cyclone grads : Luke Carrier, Michael Tierney, John David Jativa, Alex Fries, Lincoln Orellana, Jonathan Cook, Adam Lowery, Sandy Nave, Chase Simerly, David Poston, Brent McCann and Andrew Smith.