D.H. Conley paid tribute to its seven seniors before Wednesday’s regular-season finale against rival South Central, then its underclassmen made sure the celebration would not be spoiled.
The Vikings dictated the pace throughout and got one goal each from a freshman, sophomore and junior in a 3-0 Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference boys soccer win. Conley nailed down third place in the ECC with a 7-4-1 record and improved to 12-9-1 overall.
South Central, which battled Conley to a 2-2 tie in the teams’ first meeting, finishes 7-10-2 overall and 3-7-2 in league play.
“South Central’s had some good wins this year, and we knew it would be a tough game,” Conley head coach John Matthews said. “Senior Night, they wanted to win. It’s a good win for the seniors. I’m proud of them.”
South Central was coming off its Senior Night on Monday, a 1-0 upset of second-place Charles B. Aycock, and head coach Crystal Molina said she feared a letdown.
“The intensity and the physicality was just not there,” Molina said. “This season has been up and down for the most part. When we’re up there, we’re up there, but so quickly we can be down there. Just being able to be stable and consistent is definitely going to be the focus next year.”
Molina loses only Hunter Dail and Jeremiah Miller from this year’s team. Matthews will say farewell to Matthew Blanton, Jorge Carrillo, Zane Jernigan, Jordan Lewis, Collin Malpass, Gabriel Ochoa and Arias Perez.
Ochoa, a physical presence in the VIkings’ midfield, sat out most of Wednesday’s game due to an ankle injury sustained last Thursday in a 3-0 win at J.H. Rose. He sat out Monday’s 2-0 loss to Southern Wayne and stayed on the bench Wednesday in a gray sweatshirt until about 6 minutes remained.
Ochoa got off a shot within 30 seconds of entering the game, but it was scooped up by Falcons’ goalie Ethan Cook.
“I just had to get some time in,” Ochoa said. “I got hurt the last Rose game, but it was good to be out there with my brothers.
“We’ve been playing together since like fifth grade, travel ball and everything. It will be hard to see them go, but I know we’ll be in touch all the time.”
Matthews left the decision to play to Ochoa.
“He wanted to finish on the field,” Matthews said. “I’m glad he felt up to doing it. I didn’t want to push anything, but he wanted to do it so I’m glad he did.”
With Ocha out, junior Ediel Lopez Romero spearheaded the VIkings’ offensive attack, which got off nine first-half shots and 16 for the game. Romero fired one right-footed blast over the goal with just less than 16 minutes left in the first half, then was turned away by a diving one-hand deflection by Cook about a minute later.
Romero broke a scoreless tie at the 8:26 mark of the first half when his high-arching shot from about 30 yards sailed just under the crossbar and into the net. Cook never jumped and looked on in disbelief; Romero also seemed stunned.
The Vikings struck again with 5:25 left in the half when alert freshman Ethan Kennedy found an open net after junior Coleman Ferrell worked free on the right wing and fired a shot off Cook’s hands.
Romero cranked a shot off the face of Cook just 1:30 into the second half, then his ball-handling wizardry led to a 3-0 lead with 30:35 to go, using a series of stepovers before sending a pinpoint cross to sophomore Juan Sanchez a few feet in front of the far post. Sanchez, just up from the junior varsity, calmly knocked it in.
Romero narrowly missed another goal on a break-away with 22 minutes left.
“Ediel had a good night,” Matthews said. “He’s had a rough couple of matches, and that was a good way to finish at home for him.”
A home win over South Central was good way for the Conley seniors to go out. The Vikings most likely will be on the road when the playoffs open next week.
“We knew our teammates were going to show out for us,” Ochoa said.