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ELIZABETHTOWN – Senior Gabe Barber fired in a pair of goals as East Bladen’s Eagles cemented their hold on first place with a 3-0 Three Rivers Conference boys soccer victory over Whiteville.

Junior Garrett Melvin banged in a penalty kick in the 10th minute to stake the Eagles to a 1-0 lead.

Not long after that goal the Eagles used a couple of neat passes to boost their lead to 2-0. Freshman Malcolm Bolden drove to the end line and drilled a pass into senior Angel Martinez who laid the ball off to Barber for an easy finish.

The Eagles tweaked their setup at halftime moving senior Jake Evans inside and Barber outside. The move paid off when Evans picked up a ball and sent a pass to Barber who cut in and blasted a rocket past the keeper.

“The pace and movement on that ball was ridiculous,” said Eagle Coach Jay Raynor. “Well hit ball by Gabe. Jake did a phenomenal job for us tonight. Whiteville made it difficult for him to get those runs on the outside so we slid him inside and that opened up a lot in the flanks. That helps Gabe to be a little freer and not on the ball nearly as much.”

The Eagles outshot Whiteville 10-1 in both halves for a 20-2 advantage in shots.

“We played really well at times,” continued Raynor. “It was good to get that result against Whiteville. They contested every ball and during a stretch won just about every 50/50 ball during the 2nd half. It was a physical and challenged game.”

“I’m proud of the boys,” said Raynor. “I thought Whiteville’s pressure forced us to get into a style that doesn’t suit us. There were too many transitions and turnovers.”

The Eagles had 2 starters out with injuries, but Raynor noted that “Jackson (Bostic) and Ebrahim (Algozy) had to play more minutes at the time but did really good jobs doing so.”

“Our backline was phenomenal once again,” stated Raynor. “Several times we put ourselves in some tough situations. We came out of those unscathed and some of those situations could’ve been costly. Chase (Starkloff), Freddy (Wooten), and Jay McKoy are just so fun to watch. Their athleticism and speed is unbelievable. They make plays that you think for sure that there’s no way they recover and some how they do.”

Raynor added, “Gabe had a heck of a night and gave us a tremendous 70 minutes. Malcom and Angel also are finding their games and playing well. Garret and Drew (Sholar) had solid games as well. They work hard in the flanks. Will Hester played extremely well for us in the midfield.”

Junior Jacob Priest recorded the shutout in goal for the Eagles. “Jacob’s distribution was probably the best it has been all season,” said Raynor.

Raynor praised the play of senior Jon Von Rupp, “Jon had quite a game. You won’t see his name in the books tonight but he created the PK and made several runs that were dangerous. He keeps that up and he will be putting a lot of goals away.”

The Eagles remain atop the Three Rivers with a 5-0 record and are 6-3-1 overall. East Bladen will travel to Red Springs on Monday night.

The East Bladen jayvees shutout Whiteville 5-0 in a preliminary game.

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