Raiders claim region crown

By PATRICK MacCOON patrick.maccoon@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 5/19/17

The third-ranked and undefeated Cleveland soccer program put forth the “best 80 minutes” of their season to get the monkey off their backs Thursday.

Fifth-ranked Cookeville, which had not lost …

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Raiders claim region crown

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The third-ranked and undefeated Cleveland soccer program put forth the “best 80 minutes” of their season to get the monkey off their backs Thursday.

Fifth-ranked Cookeville, which had not lost over the past seven matches in the head-to-head series, was shut out for the first time this season.

The 2-nil defeat of the Cavaliers not only brought the Blue Raiders their first Region 3-AAA championship since 2010, but places them one win away from a pair of even greater accomplishments — a trip to Murfreesboro for the Class AAA state tournament and the most single season wins in school history.

“After we lost in overtime at their (Cookeville’s) place last season it didn’t feel right,” senior defenseman and clutch scorer Dillon Alexander said after scoring a goal in Thursday night’s home victory. “When we all met for the first time this season, we said we wanted to win region. We all have bought into the same vision and it feels so sweet.”

Cleveland will look to win a TSSAA Sectional at home for the first time since making its last trip to the state tournament in 2009, with a win over Riverdale in a 20-win campaign.

Oakland will travel to the Greater Cleveland Soccer Complex for a kick time of 7 p.m. Saturday. Cleveland’s season came to an end last year in sectionals to the Patriots.

“To host sub-state means a ton,” said senior goalkeeper Braxton Wiggins, who had three saves and posted his fourth straight postseason shutout. “We have yet to be beaten this season, and to play at home will keep us working extremely hard for state.”

For 11th-year head coach John Brose, who now has helped bring four region championships to CHS, a fast and physical defense made for one of the best performances he has seen.

Cookeville (18-2-2) entered with a 22-0 goal advantage in three postseason contests and leading scorer junior Ryan Lombardo (31 goals) was kept in check.

“We have had great defenders come through here, but this ranks right up there with some of the best defensive performances I have seen,” Brose said. “We just played so tough. We won a lot of 50-50 balls, which gave us momentum and allowed us to counterattack with our dangerous forwards.”

In the blink of an eye, the Blue Raiders (20-0-2) got on the board as Jordan Lopez’s shot was deflected by a diving keeper but senior Will Estes was there for the follow-through pass into the back of the net two minutes into play.

Estes then celebrated in dramatic fashion as he followed through on his promise to his teammates with a no-shirt celebration.

“I told the team that if I scored today I was going to take my shirt off and run around the field,” Estes said. “I didn’t think I would score tonight, but it was a huge moment for us early. Probably not the best time to pick up a yellow card, but it didn’t matter in the end.”

Cleveland cushioned its lead even more as Alexander did more than just clear numerous dangerous looks with headers and sliding tackles.

With a foul just beyond the 18-yard box with a set piece after a Cookeville penalty, Alexander used the line of defenders in front of him to hide the ball with a left-legged boot that glanced off the keeper’s right hand and into the back left of the net.

A 2-0 lead in the 27th minute would hold the rest of the way as an energized defense stuck to the Cavaliers’ dangerous attackers like glue.

Wiggins landed two of his saves in the second half and his highlight-reel stop of the night came off a dive to his right to stop a blazing shot from Cookeville’s Bralen Clouse in the 51st minute.

“It was not just me tonight making stops,” Wiggins said. “Dillon was flying across the middle making all kinds of saves, Julio (Gallegos) had an amazing goal line clearance that went over the top. Our defense contained a dangerous team.

They didn’t have a single shot on goal off a set piece, I believe, and they are one that capitalizes on set pieces. They beat Ooltewah 4-0 and I think they scored three off set pieces.”

Jordan Lopez led all marksmen with three shots on goal, and nearly tied the single season school record of 24 goals late in the first half, but was turned away by a diving deflection.

While the last 40 minutes were some of the longest of Brose’s tenure, as he anticipated the first region championship in seven years, a cold shower soon ensued.

Logan Stutzman and several others grabbed the water cooler and dumped it on their head coach soon after the final whistle.

“It was a little cold, but if they want to give me another one Saturday, by all means they can do it if we win,” Brose said. “This group loves each other. They all get excited for their teammates’ successes.

“We have leaders on our bench and our field. They have bonded so well this season, and I think that’s why we are standing here right now.”

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