Cleveland wins district soccer title in overtime

SARALYN NORKUS Banner Sports Writer
Posted 5/12/16

For the second time in four seasons, the Cleveland Blue Raiders are the District 5-AAA soccer champions.

On Wednesday night, Cleveland and McMinn County pushed each other to the brink during …

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Cleveland wins district soccer title in overtime

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For the second time in four seasons, the Cleveland Blue Raiders are the District 5-AAA soccer champions.

On Wednesday night, Cleveland and McMinn County pushed each other to the brink during the championship game, forcing the winner to be decided in overtime. A total of 102 minutes were played before the Raiders got the goal needed to win 3-2.

Cleveland’s last district championship came in 2013 in a 3-1 win over Soddy-Daisy.

Having gone through the first two 10-minute overtime periods, the Raiders (13-2-3) and the Cherokees (12-9) took the game into a five-minute, golden goal period. Nearly two minutes into the OT period, senior Graham Hammond battled through McMinn’s backfield to knock in the game-winning goal. Hammond was also responsible for tying the game up at two with just three minutes left in regulation.

“I saw Jonathan (Collins) and tried to get out of the way for him to take the shot. I saw it bounce off the defender’s thigh and knew I could step in and poke it past him. Then it just took pushing through and getting past the defenders whacking at me — just pushing through and seeing the back of the net,” Hammond explained. “It’s our senior year and we’ve got 16 seniors (on the roster) so it feels great to get the win in the district.”

Making the win even sweeter for Cleveland is the fact they will host the District 6-AAA runner up in the first round of the Region 3-AAA tournament on Tuesday.

“We’re going to play hard no matter where we play, but it’s always nice to not have to travel and get tired legs — its nice to be at home,” Hammond added.

Cleveland coach John Brose felt that Monday’s semifinal game against East Hamilton was stressful, but Wednesday proved even more nerve-wracking to watch from the sidelines.

“It’s the playoffs, so any way you can get it done, we’ll take it,” Brose stated. “Hat’s off to McMinn County, they played their hearts out and made it really difficult on us. They played well in the back and (Aaron) Rucker and (Jack) Rymer up top gave us fits for sure.”

Coming into the championship game, the Raiders were hoping that the Cherokees would still be recovering from their PK-win, 110-plus minute semifinal game against Walker Valley on Monday.

If the Tribe was tired, they most certainly did not let it show.

“We thought that would be to our advantage. They played more minutes than we did the other day and it was a real emotional game. They came out and didn’t look like they had just played an overtime game just two nights before,” Brose commented. “Our guys kept fighting and dug deep to get this one.”

Rymer put McMinn County on the board just eight minutes into the first half. It took Cleveland until the final minutes of the half to get the equalizer, which was scored by Grant Taylor.

The 1-1 tie held until the 69th minute, when Rymer once again found the back of the net. With minutes dwindling off the clock, Hammond scored on a header in the 77th minute, which forced the two teams into overtime.

“We hung tough and after going down a goal, were able to fight back. I think it was huge to equalize before halftime and switch the momentum over a little bit,” the coach detailed. “As the game went on and (McMinn) got that second goal, our guys just kept fighting. Graham put it home there in the last two minutes and it was just an amazing effort on his part. Then to come up big fighting through them in the back in golden goals and putting it in the back of the net for the walk-off win, if you’re going to do it, I guess this was the way to do it.”

Throughout the season, Cleveland has proven to be a second half team — so much so that the majority of their 59 goals scored have come in the second half.

“We have been a second half team for sure. We’ve said from day one that one of our biggest strengths was our depth. We’ve got five or six guys that we can sub in and we don’t lose a lot when we sub them in. We have used that to our advantage this season and have won a lot of games in the second half,” Brose explained. “Perhaps those extra minutes of rest in the first half were what made the difference for us in the game.”

The last time the Raiders scored in the first half was four games ago on April 27 against Notre Dame.

Cleveland will await the results of tonight’s 6-AAA championship game between Cookeville and Warren County and host the runner-up on Tuesday. McMinn County will travel to play the District 6-AAA champion.

All-District Team:

First team: Kyle Swenson, Cleveland; Chris Pistrang, Cleveland; Graham Hammond, Cleveland; Ben Rodriguez, Walker Valley; Andrew Hannah, Walker Valley; Jake Poulakis, Walker Valley; Jack Rymer, McMinn County; Trevor McDonald, McMinn County; Tommy Barcelona, East Hamilton; Saleem Handal, East Hamilton; Alan Rodgers, Soddy-Daisy; Neftaly Sosa, Ooltewah; and Immanuel Sandryka, Bradley Central. Second Team: Gustave Wilhelm, Cleveland; David Comacho-Ordaz, Walker Valley; Caleb Underdown, McMinn County; Gabe Waters, East Hamilton; Jacob Lemons, Soddy-Daisy; Nurija Beganovic, Ooltewah; and Malcolm Reedy, Bradley Central. Defensive MVP: Angel Santiago, Ooltewah. Midfield MVP: Jonathan Collins, Cleveland. Offensive MVP: Aaron Rucker, McMinn County.

RAIDERS 3, CHEROKEES 2 (OT)

Halftime score: 1-all. Goals: Jack Rymer 2; Grant Taylor, Graham Hammond 2. Records: McMinn County 12-9; Cleveland 13-2-3.

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