Clinton athletic officials moved the start time of Monday’s soccer match with East Bladen up to 5 p.m. in hopes of giving families some extra time for Halloween festivities. After a huge win over Wallace-Rose Hill in their last outing, the Dark Horses were heavy favorites over the visiting Eagles.
Too bad no one told the Eagles that they were the underdog. East Bladen came out and controlled the tempo of the game and took advantage of a lackluster performance by the Dark Horses to take the home team to overtime and eventually outshoot the Horses in PK’s to spoil the night for the Dark Horses in their final regular season home match.
The Dark Horses got on the board first at 10:02 when Ivan Palencia took a pass off the head of Andrew Warren near midfield, made a nifty dribble behind his back, and then sped past two defenders and sent a shot into the left corner of the Eagle goal to give Clinton the early lead at 1-0.
Clinton clung to their slim lead, missing several opportunities to score for most of the remainder of the first half. East Bladen gained confidence with each Dark Horse miscue and finally got the equalizer when they got a player free in front of the goal. Clinton keeper, Gray Sutter, rejected the open shot but the ball rebounded hard toward the right wing where an alert Eagle sent the ball back past Sutter before he was able to recover. The Eagle goal knotted the score at 1-1 at the 35:34 mark of the first half.
The score remained knotted at 1-1 for the balance of the first half and for the first 20 minutes of the second frame. A foul by the Dark Horses set the Eagles up with a free kick from the 18 yard line. The Eagle kick, glanced off the head of a Dark Horse defender, slowing the ball down and causing Sutter to dive ahead of the ball and allow the ball to find its way into the Clinton goal for a 2-0 Eagle lead at the 60:50 mark.
East Bladen seemed content to guard their slim lead while Clinton sent more players into the attack in an attempt to pull even with the visitors. East Bladen turned back strike after strike from the Dark Horses before a late game flurry resulted in a Clinton goal. With less than three minutes remaining in the match, Corey Smith made a long throw-in that was headed away from the goal by an East Bladen defender. Clinton’s Turner Wells stepped into the path of the ball and fired a quick shot toward the goal that was blocked by the Eagle keeper. The ball bounded in front of the goal where Parker Norris alertly nudged it into the goal to tie the game at 2-2 at the 77:46 mark.
Each team made last ditch efforts to take a lead before the end of regulation, but to no avail as the game remained tied, triggering overtime. The teams battled through two 10 minute overtime periods with neither being able to gain a foothold. East Bladen got a free kick from close range late in the second period but Clinton’s Sutter calmly stepped in front of the Eagle shot to preserve the tie.
With neither team able to open a lead during the OT periods the match would be decided by penalty kicks. Each team sent five players to the six yard line to fire a point blank shot at the defending goalie. After five shots each team had tallied three goals, requiring the PK phase to continue.
East Bladen’s sixth PK attempt caught Sutter guessing the wrong way as the ball skipped into the goal to give the Eagles the advantage. Clinton’s Reid Taylor squared off to take the Dark Horse PK and attempt to extend the game for another round. The East Bladen goalie guessed correctly, smothering the Taylor shot and setting off a loud celebration at midfield by his Eagle teammates.
After the game Clinton coach Brad Spell made no excuses for the loss.
“We didn’t bring the energy we needed tonight, but you have to give East Bladen a lot of credit. They had a good game plan, they came to play and wanted it more than us. The good that can come out of this is that we got to go to PKs and if we have this situation in the playoffs we may manage it better and not be as nervous.”
Spell continued to talk about the lessons he hopes he and his team learned form the loss, adding, “you have to bring your best every night. We waited to late tonight to try and bring our best and you can’t do that. Your have to come out of the gate strong and take the game to every opponent. We didn’t do a good job listening tonight, we didn’t do a good job with instructions tonight, we just didn’t bring our best and it got us beat. I hope this will help us realize that you can get beat on any given night and you better be ready to play, especially in the playoffs.”
The loss drops Clinton to 18-2-1 overall and 12-1 in Four County Conference play. The Dark Horses wrap up regular season play on Wednesday when they travel to Union for a 6 p.m. kickoff.