G-P thwarts Elizabethton

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   GATLINBURG -- The Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders have been waiting for the Elizabethton Cyclones.
   Last year in a Region 1-A/AA soccer semifinal, Elizabethton was victorious over the Highlanders. Gatlinburg-Pittman didn't forget it and came ready to play Tuesday.
   The Highlanders opened up with two quick goals and slowly held off a pesky Cyclone squad, gaining revenge with a 3-1 victory at Hammonds Field in this year's regional semifinal.
   "It's kind of hard to know it's over," said Elizabethton coach Bill McClay. "We didn't create as many choices as we thought we should today. We had found a rhythm two-thirds of the way through the season, but with injuries we've had to adapt.
   "A couple of their guys were faster than us and once you're down, it's tough. I'm proud of the way we played. We're a young team, and hopefully this will bode well for the future."
   Highlander captain Ben Jones had his plate full during the encounter, as he moved all over the field for Gatlinburg-Pittman, pacing their offensive attack.
   Early in the game, Jones broke loose and booted the ball past Elizabethton goalie Ben Carey, providing a 1-0 lead for Pittman.
   Before the Cyclones could counter, the Highlanders were back at it as Ryan Smith stole the ball and sprinted out into the open before spinning it into the net for a 2-0 advantage.
   Pittman goalie John Miley had an outstanding first half, only facing three shots and saving them all.
   Gavin McKinney and Justin Linebaugh made valiant attempts for the Cyclones after solid defense from Andy Ross, but they just couldn't get things going.
   Elizabethton made more strides in the second half, but Jones would come to the front again for the Highlanders after Ryan Smith and Curtis Oakley failed in attempts to score.
   Jones battled with Jeff Arman over the ball, when Carey came up out of position. Jones worked his way between them and tapped the ball into the net for a 3-0 lead.
   With time running out, the Cyclones needed to get on the board.
   They constantly battled against Miley and the Pittman defense, finally achieving success when Robert Cogan took an assist from his head into the goal with nine minutes to go, pulling Elizabethton within two.
   Ryan Gough and McKinney made strong attempts late in the game, but time eventually ran out on a solid Cyclone season with the 3-1 loss.
   "It was important to win this game," said Gatlinburg-Pittman coach Paige Yates. "Last year, they put us out and our seniors came out here and really wanted this one.
   "I'm proud of our effort and the year itself. We should have a great rest of the season. I'm proud of how hard this team's worked. They have earned it."
   Despite the loss, the young Cyclone team was thinking positive and looking ahead towards the next season.
   However, it ended on a sad note for the squad's seven seniors: Andy Ross, Gavin McKinney, Charlie Crowe, Andrew Roberson, Brad Boreland, Jason Oliver and Sam Francisco.
   McClay feels it was a good test for his squad and believes they got a lot out of their season.
   "We only lose two starters this year," he said. "Last year we lost nine, and for us to finish up here shows good things for the future of this program.
   "Their attitudes have been good and they had fun this season."