CLAYTON — It took a while for the Cleveland girls soccer team to get things in gear Wednesday night during its first round matchup of the 3A state playoffs at home against Hillsborough Cedar Ridge.
However, a goal in the opening minute from Emily Truelove jumpstarted the Rams attack which pushed the proverbial pedal to the metal for a 6-0 defeat over the Red Wolves to earn the team’s first NCHSAA playoff win.
Truelove was truly unstoppable in the second half, tallying four goals and an assist.
After the Rams dominated play in the first half but had nothing to show for their 12-2 shot advantage, the junior standout’s first goal of the second half, a mere 41 seconds after the whistle, was the confidence boost her team needed.
“Emily set the tone for the half by just scoring right away,” Cleveland coach Marissa DiMarco said. “Hard work pays off. We had opportunity after opportunity in the first half before Emily put it away and gave us a little confidence.”
Truelove received a nice pass threaded by teammate Cassidy McNierney inside the Cedar Ridge penalty box and then proceeded, after holding the ball and pirouetting to avoid four Red Wolves defenders draped all over her, to strike a low shot just inside the far post for a 1-0 lead.
The goal seemed to help spark Cleveland’s offensive creativity as McNierney subsequently put the Rams up two goals exactly two minutes later when she used her left foot to fire a shot past Cedar Ridge goalie Kristen Sobnosky.
McNierney added another goal and assisted on two of Truelove’s goals as Cleveland (14-5-1) overwhelmed the Red Wolves over the final 40 minutes, often getting behind the visitor’s defense with precise passing.
Sobnosky kept the Rams, the Two Rivers 3A champions, off the scoreboard in the first half with seven huge saves, all coming off of point blank Cleveland shots inside the Red Wolves’ penalty box.
The senior keeper had no chance to prevent the offensive deluge she faced in the second half, however, as the Rams did a better job at playing passes to feet, getting the ball out wide and finishing.
After a stellar regular season last year, the Rams fell to a lower-seeded Havelock team in the first round and were intent at not letting history repeat itself.
“I think we’re like a whole new team (this year),” Truelove said. “I think that we’re doing really well.”
DiMarco feels her team is prepared for a deep run this season thanks to some changes in the squad’s preparation for the postseason.
Cleveland played a total of seven games against 4A level competition going 2-4-1 in those contests to help balance a schedule that saw the Rams go unbeaten and rarely tested in conference play.
DiMarco also feels her team also has a tougher mental makeup this time around spearheaded by a senior class — Kaylah Alexander, Shelby Daveport, Alexis McLeod, Courtney Morris and Blair Witmer — intent on leaving a mark on the program.
“This year we played a tougher schedule, we prepared for it and I feel like our mindset is right,” said DiMarco. “Our senior class this year wanted to make a name for itself and they have.
“I’m proud of them and I’m happy to be their coach for two years and I hope we go far for their sake and our team’s sake.”