Gray's Creek has rude welcome for Jackets
It was a new beginning. A fresh start in a new conference. There wasn’t, however, a fairy tale ending for Lee County’s boys soccer team Tuesday night. Instead, visiting Gray’s Creek beat the Yellow Jackets 4-0 in Lee County’s first Cape Fear Valley Conference match.
After years of struggling to be competitive in soccer in a 4A conference loaded with powerful Raleigh area high school soccer teams, the Yellow Jackets were anticipating a more level playing field, or pitch, in their new conference. And Lee County’s head coach, Brad Wicker, had the program moving in the right direction dating back to last season when the Jackets won three matches and had two draws in conference play.
That is one of the reasons why Tuesday’s home loss was so disappointing for Wicker and his squad.
“I thought we played decent in the first half – it was 0-0 – (but) we couldn’t find the back of the net,” said Wicker.
The Yellow Jackets had played well in the first half, possessing the ball the majority of time and consistently building their attack to put pressure on the Bear back line, but coming away each time without a score. Lee County had several balls delivered from the wing, across the face of the goal, but runs toward the goal failed to connect. One of Lee County’s best scoring opportunities came in the 13th minute of play when sophomore striker Payton Jackson hit the crossbar from about 10 yards out.
Gray’s Creek, also, missed a good scoring opportunity in the 34th minute when Jacket keeper Hunter Watson came out of goal to challenge the attacker, but was unable to prevent the shot. Fortunately, for Lee County, two backs recovered in time to protect an open goal and cleared the ball to prevent the score.
The first half ended with brisk play by the Yellow Jackets, and a breakaway run in the 39th minute by Jackson, who had his hard shot on goal deflected away by the Bear keeper.
The second half began like the first half ended, with Lee County possessing the ball and attacking Grays Creek’s goal.
In the 51st minute, Lee County had four shots blocked by Gray’s Creek’s keeper in a frenzy of play that finally resulted in a Jacket corner kick. The kick found the head of a Lee County player, but the ball sailed wide of the goal.
The Yellow Jackets had another excellent scoring opportunity three minutes later, maybe the best scoring opportunity of the night, thwarted by two great saves.
Then it happened - so quickly that the good-sized, vocal crowd of Jackets fans were taken by surprise. Gray’s Creek finally did what neither team had been able to do all night – scored in the 59th minute.
Following another good possession by Lee County, Gray’s Creek won the ball and sent it long, down the left side of the pitch. Watson charged out of goal to take away the angle, and was beaten by the Bear attacker who put the ball in the empty goal for a 1-0 lead.
“We let them hang around, hang around and they put one in and that’s all it took for them to get the momentum. That’s the difference in the game. If we score a couple, or (even) one, before them, it’s a different game,” Wicker said.
The Yellow Jackets continued to exert offensive pressure on the Bears. In the 66th minute Lee County had a direct kick from 25 yards out, delivered by Eric Reyes, that was knocked away by the Bear keeper.
In the 70th minute, Gray’s Creek sent a ball over the top of the high line set by the Jacket defenders, resulting in a one-on-one for a Bear attacker and a goal putting the Bears ahead 2-0. The Bears tacked on goals in the 73rd and 80th minutes.
It was not the way Wicker hoped the Jackets first Cape Fear Valley conference match would go, but he knows there is a lot of soccer yet to play.
“Hopefully, when we get that first win we can get some confidence going and that will help. I think that’s what they need — put a few goals in the back of the net, and see they can score and can win,” Wicker said.
Lee County (0-3, 0-1) had 11 shots on goal, eight corner kicks, and seven saves by Watson. Gray’s Creek (4-0, 1-0) had nine shots on goal, four corner kicks, and 10 saves by its keeper.