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ELIZABETHTOWN – New Hanover scored 2 early goals en route to a 7-1 non-conference men’s soccer victory over East Bladen Tuesday night. The game was stopped in the 53rd minute due to heavy rain.

After scoring twice in the 1st 10 minutes, the Wildcats tacked on another goal, before junior Malcolm Bolden broke the scoring ice for East Bladen. Jacob Nixon capitalized on a turnover and sent a pass to senior Joel Johnson.

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Photos by Kenneth Armstrong

“Joel made an excellent move to his right foot then sent a ball over the top to Malcolm,” said Eagle Coach Jay Raynor. “It was a well placed ball that pulled the keeper out and Malcolm was able to hit over him. The ball hit the crossbar and he followed his shot and headed it into the net. Was a heck of a play and finish.”

According to Raynor, New Hanover dominated the ball and possession during the match. “Their movement off the ball and their decisions on the ball out matched our play.”

The Eagles had a chance to put another goal on the board right before half. “Joel found Malcolm stretching past their backline,” noted Raynor. “Malcolm didn’t have an angle and put it to the back post. Our winger was late getting there and we missed that chance. The goal was open and would’ve made it 3-2”

Moments later New Hanover converted a penalty kick to push the halftime lead to 4-1. “Missing our chance then conceding a PK immediately at the other end right before the half was over was tough,” said Raynor. “3-1, 3-2, sure looks and feels different than 4-1 at half.”

Raynor added, “I knew we were going to be jumping in the deep end when I scheduled them last year. We needed this game to learn and gain some experience. To see who we truly are. To play at a high level you have to experience it. The speed of play, the physicality, the technical ability… it’s another level. We needed to experience that and see who we really are.

“I thought we learned a lot about us tonight,” continued Raynor. “The guys never quit and we were able to play a lot of kids. Not just play kids to play them. We played guys and asked them to come in and fly around and make plays. When they got tired we subbed another in to do the same.”

Raynor pointed out, “The guys weren’t out worked that’s for sure. That says a lot about this young group. They didn’t lay down and we went at them. Of course they are a different level, 15-16 seniors and are a few months away from playing for the 3A State Championship. A week removed from beating last years 2A State Champion (Croatan) 6-0.

“We gained experience, got to go toe to toe with a 3A powerhouse, and worked our tails off,” stated Raynor. “The only down side to the evening was the fact we didn’t get a chance to finish the game due to weather. We needed those minutes.”

Raynor praised his backline play. “They got better as the game went on. Chase Starkloff was unbelievable and seemed to be making play after play. Lee Barnes had an outstanding night in goal. He brings it day in and day out and did all he could for us. Proud of him! Jacob Nixon competed and is solid for us in midfield. Joel’s assist was nice and he got better as the game went on.

“Malcolm was unbelievable,” stated Raynor. “He hit another gear tonight. He seemed like a guy who wanted to prove we belonged on the same field with them. He worked and took it to them. We had some trouble getting him the ball at times but the times he was on the ball, he made it count.”

Raynor added, “Zac (Metz) and Nathan (Howell) made some great plays in the back. They had to make a lot of plays/stops in short periods of time. We didn’t do them any favors but they came up big as expected. Omar Atkinson got his first start tonight and did the most with his minutes. This young man is new to soccer but he works so hard. He was literally sprinting and applying pressure on the ball all over the field.”

East Bladen, now 1-1, will host Whiteville Thursday at 5:30.

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