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Rams advance in playoffs

AHOSKIE – Now it’s on to the ‘rubber match’.

Ridgecroft School earned a third soccer meeting with Kerr-Vance Academy next week in Henderson after the Rams eliminated Community Christian School Friday at Mike Bryant Field in the first round of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association 1A state playoffs with a 3-0 shutout win.

Tyler Hughes, Hanes Joyner, and Ashton Turner scored goals and Ethan Phelps recorded the shutout in goal for Ridgecroft, who raised their season record to 12-7. Despite the win, there were times when the play of both teams seemed as dreary as the steel-gray chilly overcast skies.

“Overall, it wasn’t one of our better performances,” said coach Aron Martin after the match. “We had a great 15 minutes there at the end, but we’ve got to be a lot more focused when we go to Kerr-Vance next week.”

Ridgecroft and Kerr-Vance split their regular-season meetings in the Coastal Plains Independent Conference with each team winning on their home pitch by identical scores of 2-1. Kerr-Vance, however, received a first round bye, while the Rams entered the post-season as the number-five seed.

As for Friday’s match, Ridgecroft scored in the first ten minutes as Miles Harrell dribbled between a pair of Cyclone defenders and fired a pass to Tyler Hughes in front of the box and his deft shot away from the goal-keeper found the net for a 1-0 lead.

The match was also marked with extremely physical play by both teams along with quite a bit of chatter between the opponents. Four minutes after the first goal was scored, Community Christian’s Blake Merritt received a yellow card for too much contact in a hard tackle on Ridgecroft’s Blake Sumner, giving the home team their first free kick which sailed just beyond the crossbar.

Later in the half, Hughes had his second chance in front of the goal, but the shot was smothered by the Cyclones goalie. Overall, Ridgecroft only had two more shots on goal for the half as both teams defended well.

With just under five minutes remaining before halftime, Harrell, Byrum and Joyner appeared to have set up for a score, but Joyner’s shot sailed wide to the right of the goal and the Rams were left with just the 1-0 lead at the break.

It didn’t take either team long in the second half to have their first warnings from the referees for rough play. When Merritt got his warning there was a spirited discussion between coach Ike Bullard and the official, but play resumed quietly. then at the 26 minute mark Joyner received a yellow for an especially rough tackle at midfield.

Perhaps the penalty served to motivate the senior captain as when he returned he scored the Rams second goal on a breakaway for a 2-0 lead with seventeen minutes remaining in the match.

With so much mixing it up between the players a more serious altercation was inevitable, and it came when Merritt went down on an especially hard tackle and came up from the turf and pushed Rob Deans back to the ground. As both teams gathered, cooler heads prevailed, but both Merritt and Deans were sent-off and the ejection means Deans will have to sit out the next match.

By now, Ridgecroft seemed to regain their sense of direction and after a wayward shot ricocheted off the left post Turner found the back of the net for the final Ridgecroft score of the match.

Community Christian had a couple of more chances with less than five minutes to play, but thanks to smart, crisp play by their defenders Ridgecroft played tight defense in front of the box and Phelps finished with a total of nine saves on the afternoon.

“We had good defense,” said CCS coach Ike Bullard, “but it came in spurts and losing a player like Merritt was tough, because that put more pressure on us to try and score. But we’re a young team, and we’ve showed a lot of promise for next season.”

“I think going for the knockout punch early and often made us one-dimensional”, said Martin, “but I was especially proud of our defense, though I can’t overlook times when we lacked mental discipline and composure. We’ll also be playing without a starter in our next match, but we’ll adapt.”

“I think we’ll have better composure when we go to Kerr-Vance,” he added. “Based on those first two matches, It’s certainly going to be interesting.”