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ELIZABETHTOWN – Sophomore Malcolm Bolden converted a pass from senior Garrett Melvin into the game’s only goal as East Bladen remained unbeaten with a 1-0 Three Rivers Conference boys’ soccer victory over St. Pauls Friday.

“Malcolm lost his grandmother this morning but had one of the best games he has ever played,” said Eagle Coach Jay Raynor. “We rallied behind Malcolm and everyone maximized their ability. It was an emotional day and there were a lot of things that could’ve set us back. Our kids were resilient and persevered. They focused on the game and left it all on the field.”

The game-winning goal came midway the 2nd half. “Garrett served a nice ball over distance that was deflected by a St. Pauls’ defender and fell right to Malcolm,” stated Raynor. “He calmly put the shot past their goalkeeper who was coming out to make a play. Malcolm is smooth and came in clutch for us. Moving Malcolm into the 9 (position) allowed his experience and calmness to prevail.”

It was the 1st game of the season that Melvin who has posted 3 ‘Hat Tricks” did not score in, but he did deliver the key pass. “Garrett was a huge factor for us tonight,” continued Raynor. “We knew Garrett was going to be marked and we had to find a way to get him involved. We moved him around and he did an amazing job of understanding the numerous roles he was asked to play. He can score but has no problem being the facilitator if he has to be.”

The Eagle defense and senior goalie Jacob Priest recorded their 5th shutout of the season against a Bulldog team that was averaging 6 goals per game. East Bladen outshot St. Pauls’ 12-11 after being outshot 5-0 in the initial 15 minutes of the game. Priest was credited with 6 saves.

“Jacob came up big tonight with some huge saves and was tested more tonight than he has been all season,” noted Raynor. “They have an attack with tremendous skill and ability. I knew Jacob could make those saves and would come up big when he had too but I was hoping we wouldn’t force him to make as many as he did

Raynor went on to praise the backline of the Eagle defense, “Jay McKoy, Freddy (Wooten), and Chase (Starkloff) made play after play for us. They were also tested and bent but didn’t break. We had some early mistakes that could’ve been capitalized on, but those three were relentless and are a major reason for the shutout tonight.”

The Eagle Coach continued, “Chase had the play of the game. St. Pauls’ got behind us and he made a slide tackle inside the box. Super risky but the only play he had to make. The body control to make the tackle and not foul and give up a penalty kick was amazing. It’s not something we train. He just made the play and that’s what that back line did time and time again tonight.”

“Will Hester had arguably one of the best games of his career tonight. He was tough, physical, and gave us the energy we needed in midfield,” stated Raynor. “Sal Algozy, Jackson (Bostic), and Drew (Sholar) had solid nights in midfield for us tonight. They weren’t satisfied with their play, but they had some big moments during the match especially in the last 10 minutes. They absorb a lot of pressure and left it all on the field. They were exhausted.”

Raynor added, “Joel Johnson was also asked to play a few different roles and did extremely well with them. Joel starts for us and is the least experienced player on the field, but he makes up for it with effort. He has a bright future and is capable of bringing a high level of play to the field.”

“Our game plan was to keep them in front of us and do our best to keep 8 (players) behind the ball,” shared Raynor. “That can be difficult because it gives the other the team a majority of the ball and you’re going to have to absorb a lot of pressure as well as runs. We also knew that would allow us some space in front as well as behind their back line.”

Raynor continued, “I felt that our preparation, system of play, and experience over the years helped us tremendously. Honestly, you have to tip your hat to them. We made one more play than they did. We capitalized on one more opportunity than they did.”

“It says a lot about our desire to win with the guys persevering and pushing through,” noted Raynor. “Fitness was an issue with us being out for 14 days, and the 80 minutes tonight pushed them. We knew that and had to adjust the system. A lot of credit goes to the guys. We had some miscues early on but they figured it out. Outstanding play from everyone tonight.”

The Eagles improved to 2-0 in league play and 5-0 overall. East Bladen is scheduled to travel to West Columbus Monday at 3:30. However West Columbus’ football and basketball teams are on a Covid pause. No word yet on if that will affect soccer.

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