Raiders' strong postseason fight comes to close

By PATRICK MacCOON
Posted 5/16/18

Cleveland fought with all the might it could.A postseason which could have been a quick one after the squad losing its top two scorers ended up providing plenty of memories.The overtime trend …

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Raiders' strong postseason fight comes to close

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Cleveland fought with all the might it could.

A postseason which could have been a quick one after the squad losing its top two scorers ended up providing plenty of memories.

The overtime trend continued for the Blue Raiders, but during the 10th overtime in just three playoff matches, a goal from Rhea County standout Christian Newport brought a close to a storybook tale.

A 1-nil double-overtime loss to the Golden Eagles in the Region 3-AAA semifinals was tough to bear Tuesday night at Stadium Field of the Greater Cleveland Soccer Complex,  but the “Big Blue” still left its own unique mark.

“I can’t tell you how proud of our five seniors I am and how they carried these young guys along,” CHS head coach John Brose said. “To win a district championship after what we lost last year from a state tournament team is saying something.

“We had the ball bounce our way last week and this week it didn’t. Soccer can be a cruel sport at times, but I am super proud of our guys and how they fought through adversity this season.”

Cleveland (13-6-3) had not lost at Stadium Field since May 7, 2015 in the district finals to East Hamilton.

The program’s last loss at the Soccer Complex was on March 29, 2016, a span in which they went 28-0-1 until a hungry Rhea County group found a seam late.

Newport’s program record 22nd goal of the season came on a corner kick and it wasn’t until the ball was kicked around in the box three or four times before he boomed it in with 4:14 left in the second overtime.

The Blue Raiders fought hard to try to even it up in the final minutes, and had several chances with a free kick and a corner. 

Rhea County (17-4) was outshot 11-10, but continued its march to the region finals against Cookeville, which beat McMinn County 5-nil. 

“It’s hard to look your seniors in the eye and know it’s their last game,” Coach Brose said. “It’s tough to find the words sometimes to console them. But they got us back and helped us win another championship when they could have given in to the circumstances. They created some great memories.”

Cleveland was edged out for the regular season district title by Walker Valley and despite Javier Pineda (13 goals) and Elvin Polacios (11 goals) having to sit out with injury, a seventh district title over the past 12 years was earned.

“Cleveland soccer means the world to me,” senior keeper Juan Flores said. “We fought for each other and this hurts to see it come to a close. I hope we left a big impact and I want to thank Coach Brose and all those who believed in me.”

The Blue Raiders had a pair of goals turned back in the season-ending loss, as Danny Collins and Fernando Vasquez had shots to the back net turned away by the whistle.

Another close chance to score came in the first half as Brian Ordonez fired a hard shot too hot for the keeper to handle. The deflected laser came back to the foot of Alan Flores who struck twice, but each time into RC keeper Payne Morgan’s chest for outstanding saves.

Yvan Salinas returned from injury for CHS and put forth dangerous attacks throughout the match along with Elias Lemus and Vasquez.

The Blue Raiders had the edge through the first 65 minutes, but the Golden Eagles turned a corner over the last 15 minutes of regulation and put forth scary counterattacks, including a header flying just go over the top of the goal.

However, the back line senior captain duo of Flores and Stutzman stepped up with diving saves and body checks to keep the score tied.

Vasquez broke away for a score two minutes in to the first overtime, but was ruled offside by the whistle. 

Cleveland’s defense cleared a dangerous ball just a few yards out from the middle of the net midway through the first 10-minute extra period, but luck went the other way in the second and final overtime.

After playing 317 minutes, not even accounting for the time in a 5-4 penalty kick shootout victory over Ooltewah in the district semifinals, a long postseason ride came to a close.

“Life is about relationships,” Brose said. “You spend a lot of time with these individuals. They were all bought in and did whatever we asked of them. They succeeded in many ways and really made an impact.”

The Blue Raiders will return eight starters for next season, which includes all three midfielders, four attackers and one defender.

“We have a lot of talent coming back,” Brose said. “These guys learned a lot this season, and shouldn’t miss a beat next year.”

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