Rams bow out in first round
By Christopher Decker
The Daily Reflector
Thursday, November 7, 2019
It was a tale of two halves for the Greene Central Rams soccer team on Wednesday night, giving up three second half goals in its 4-2 first-round playoff loss to Croatan.
The Rams, a 16 seed, suffered just the fourth loss of the season and are eliminated from the playoffs with an 18-4 record while the Cougars, the 17 seed, advanced to the second round of the 2-1 state playoffs with a 14-5-2 overall record.
Croatan will play Ledford Senior, the top seed in the East bracket, on Saturday.
Second-year GC head coach Matt Gnau, who has watched the Rams suffer early-round exits both seasons he has coached despite a 35-7 regular season record, said his squad needs to change its mindset to advance to the later rounds next season.
"For some reason, we go into a game thinking that we aren't up to the (same) caliber," he said. "They see it the first half and we know we can hang with them, it's just having that belief to power through the second half and finish the game off."
Cougar junior Travis Garner-McGraw secured his third hat trick of the season while junior Hayden Crow scored his 11th goal of the season. Rams senior Ulises Mora and sophomore Jose Morquecho scored the two Greene Central goals of the night.
After holding off several runs from the Rams offense, Garner-McGraw scored his 17th goal of the season off an assist from Andrew Padgett to take a 1-0 lead 13 minutes into the match.
Six minutes later, Greene Central took advantage of the Cougar's pressure defense when Mora received a long pass, fought off a Croatan defender and lofted a 25-yard shot over Cougar goalkeeper Alex Ericksen, who was playing at the top of the box, to tie the game 1-1. It was Mora's 20th goal of the season.
Both teams launched six shots in the first half, while Greene Central had two corner kick opportunities.
That changed in the second half, however, as Croatan shot 18 times and scored three goals. Meanwhile, the Rams recorded just two shots and midfielder Alejandro Nunez exited the game early in the half.
"(Nunez) is kind of our anchor in that area. In the first half, he shut stuff down and didn't give them the easy balls," Gnau said. "We had a depleted bench and didn't have the legs to hang with a team like that. Once we lost the midfield, they were able to bypass our other center midfielders."
Garner-McGraw scored his second goal on a ball that slipped through the hands of Greene Central goalkeeper Nolberto Castillo.
"Once that goal went in, our heads went down a little bit," Gnau said.
Crow scored three minutes later to extend the lead to 3-1.
After the Rams fought off seven more Cougar shot attempts, Morquecho collected a loose ball in the box and scored the Rams second goal of the night and his 12th of the season to cut the lead to 3-2 with just under 12 minutes remaining.
Garner-McGraw crushed the comeback hopes, however, scoring his 19th goal of the season with 7:22 to go.