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Late goals lift Elizabethton over Devils

Blue Devil Leroy Valdez works inside Elizabethton territory on Wednesday. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)
Blue Devil Leroy Valdez works inside Elizabethton territory on Wednesday. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Curtis Carden)

Thanks to a key shift of momentum, Elizabethton remained unscathed in the Three Rivers Conference standings.

The Cyclones rattled off a pair of goals late in the second half to put an end to the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil soccer team’s upset bid with a 2-1 victory on Wednesday, March 23, inside Citizens Bank Stadium.

UCHS (0-3) held the 1-0 advantage at the end of the first half, but saw the Cyclones hit the scoreboard near the 72nd minute to knot things up 1-1. The Cyclones capitalized on another opportunity and scored their second goal with just a couple of minutes left in regulation and held on for the win.

“The inexperience, the silly mistakes,” Blue Devil head coach Justin Ciralsky said when asked about the outcome of the game. “Each game is getting better. This is one of the best games we’ve played, by far. It’s not the goal that matters, but it is that momentum that just killed us. Just a chip-in goal off a silly mistake can make a difference. But their (Elizabethton) second goal was great.”

UCHS controlled possession time in the first half against the Cyclones, who are 4-0 in league play, and it was an item Elizabethton head coach Bill McClay knew all too well about the Blue Devils heading into the clash.

“This is always an important game during the indoor season,” McClay said. “I’ve been waiting for this game for about five to six years now. Our guys see Unicoi during the indoor season and they’ve carried that over well to the outdoor season. We knew a little bit about them and I was a little surprised when I heard their score from the Sullivan South game, because I know they’re a better team than that game showed.

“This is the first time at this point in the season we’ve played four conference games. We needed tonight to learn about ourselves and to learn about Unicoi County. A game like this shows that you’re going to have to fight out of your district if you want to make it in the postseason.”

An aggressive first half stalemate finally broke when Blue Devil Jose Ortiz went down inside the box, which led to a penalty kick. The kick hit in the right corner of the goal inside the 37th minute and gave UCHS confidence heading into intermission. The effort was there, Ciralsky said, whether it was goalie Eddie Martinez swatting back multiple shot attempts or Cameron Higgins controlling the backline, but Ortiz set the tone for the game.

“He’s one of those players that’ll make a big difference,” the coach added. “If he has a great game, we have a great game. That’s something we’ve been looking forward to all season and hope to see it continue. Our guys deserved a few more goals, just by the way they played the whole game. But sometimes that’s the way it goes … you have to put them in to win it.”

Ortiz said the team is heading in the right direction, by focusing on fixing minor mistakes across the board.

“We got demoralized after that first goal,” Ortiz said. “Compared to the other games, we did way better this game. The only thing keeping us from winning are just some mistakes and we’re going to keep working on that.”

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UCHS had a couple of opportunities to get in the win column this week, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline with trips to Hampton and David Crockett. The Blue Devils return to action on Thursday, March 31, with a trip to Washington County against University High.