KENLY – Seniors Gabe Barber and Jon Von Rupp scored 2 goals each to lead East Bladen to a 5-2 victory over North Johnston in the second round of the NCHSAA Class 2A Boys Soccer Playoffs Saturday night.
It was the 17th consecutive win for Coach Jay Raynor’s Eagles who improved to 17-3-1 and will now travel to top-seeded Thomasville Ledford –a 2-1 winner over Croatan in the second round.
Barber blasted in a volley from 30 yards out for the first Eagle goal in the 20th minute. Nine minutes later, Von Rupp was fouled just outside the box, and Barber hammered in the free kick from 22 yards out for a 2-0 Eagle lead. Junior Garrett Melvin earned an assist on the kick.
“Gabe was once again our engine tonight,” said Raynor. “His “brace” (2 goals) in the first half was huge. Gave us a good foundation to build off of. Two clinical finishes -one a perfectly hit volley and the other a well-placed free kick.”
After the Eagles led 2-0 at halftime, the Panthers rallied in the 56th minute with a goal from Andrew Stancil off of a feed from midfield. “Stancil turned and hit a gorgeous shot low past Jacob (Priest),” stated Raynor. “Jacob got his fingertips on it but saw it late. Was a nice finish and not much we could do there. The turn and finish was textbook.”
The Eagles answered a minute later as Von Rupp drilled a shot past the keeper off of a feed from Melvin. Three minutes later senior Jake Evans banged in a shot off of a Melvin corner kick to boost the lead to 4-1.
In the 63rd minute Von Rupp scored his second goal off of a throw-in from Barber.”Jon also had a “brace” and came up big when we needed him,” noted Raynor. “Jon took a beating tonight and was fouled just about every time he was on the ball. He was composed and came through in a big way tonight. He also drew several fouls in the attacking 1/3 that led to some good looks and one goal for us.”
North Johnston converted a free kick from distance with 5 minutes left to trim the margin to 5-2.
“It was an unbelievable game,” stated Raynor. “The guys were focused and determined. They adhered to the game plan and executed. Every single one them had a phenomenal night. We were undersized but really controlled the midfield winning the 50/50 balls. We knew they were good in the air, but we took that away.”
Raynor praised the play of Will Hester and Jay McGill in the midfield. “They freed Gabe up to pick the ball up and initiate our attacks. We had some really good sequences on the ball tonight.”
The Eagles outshot North Johnston 9-2 in the first half and 20-6 for the game. “Jay McKoy, Freddy (Wooten), and Chase (Starkloff) played a perfect game in the back. North Johnston was pretty direct forcing us into 50/50 ball situations. I thought we dominated a majority of those battles. Even on the long throws and corner kicks, they held their marks and routinely got up to win the ball over some bigger taller guys.”
Priest was credited with 3 saves in goal. “One of those saves was point blank,” noted Raynor. “Jacob was locked in tonight and made 2 big saves. His distribution was just about perfect.”
“Jake and Malcolm (Bolden) also dominated their positions,” said Raynor. “North Johnston couldn’t run with us in the flanks and were having to over compensate for our speed. That opened up some space underneath that made it easier for Gabe, Will, and Jay McGIll to play in.”
Melvin finished with 2 assists for East. “Garrett did a ton of work on and off the ball for us tonight,” said Raynor. “He was crafty and combined well with his teammates. Garrett helped us use both sides of the field and did a great job of using deceptive passes to get in behind them. Garrett brings an edge to our attack and was a heck of a teammate tonight.”
Raynor was also proud of the way the team answered the first Panther goal by scoring 2 goals in 3 minutes and 3 goals in 6 minutes. “I can honestly say that I’m not sure how many of our teams could do that. Goals on 3 set pieces for us was also impressive.”
“Our fans traveled well and were once again the 12th man,” Raynor concluded. “It felt like a home game. Not only were they there, but they were into it. The energy was unbelievable. Appreciate all of the fans who came out to watch. It means a lot to the boys and they sure do enjoy it.”