ELIZABETHTOWN — Sixteen days since school was in session, soccer seasons resumed for West Bladen and East Bladen on Thursday evening, against each other no less.
The winless Knights’ first half lead was brief and unbeaten host East Bladen flexed its strength the second half, taking a 7-2 Three Rivers Conference victory before a modest mosquito-bitten turnout.
Seniors Greyson Heustess and Ezequiel Arteaga scored twice each for the Eagles, and Heustess added a pair of assists. Senior Dan Tatum, junior Jake Evans and sophomore Jay McKoy also scored. Senior Pierce Melvin and junior Gabe Barber had two assists each. Junior Jay McGill and Evans also added assists.
“We had 10 players flying around,” Heustess said, confirming it was good to be back playing after such a long layoff caused by Hurricane Florence.
West Bladen sophomore Keni Verdugo Gomez, with an assist from senior Irvin Hernandez, had put the guests ahead 1-0 in the 17th minute. Moments earlier on the other end, senior Marcus Rojas got a foot onto the ball inside the box to thwart an Eagles’ threat.
“We’ve had quite a few matches where we were able to score first, but we’ve not been able to maintain,” West Bladen head coach Phil Turnage said. “We just haven’t been able to finish.”
Turnage had praise for junior goalkeeper Angel Martinez, who made an array of saves and came forward to score on a penalty kick in the 61st minute with his team trailing by four.
“Angel had another phenomenal game. He’s the best in the conference,” Turnage said.
East Bladen, which climbed to 4-0 in the Three Rivers and 8-0-2 overall, led 3-1 at intermission. First-half pressure was applied up front by Arteaga, freshman Ishmael Arteaga and Heustess. Martinez got help from Rojas and junior defenders Jonathan Dominguez, Joey Ferretiz and Eric Sandoval.
The Eagles spent a majority of the second half attacking offensively, particularly moving deep on the right flank or finding seams toward the middle of the top of the 18-box.
“We’ve got some talent. We’re better than our record indicates,” Turnage said after his club fell to 0-2 in the Three Rivers and 0-6-2 overall.
In addition to Martinez, he praised the work of Gomez up front and Dominguez defensively.
East Bladen earned four scores following free kicks; a fifth came on a penalty kick.
“We responded well to going down a goal,” East Bladen head coach Jay Raynor said. “We controlled what we could control. Four goals on set pieces, that’s a good day.”
Raynor noted that some of his players, in the time dealing with flooding from Florence, were able to volunteer, including at the shelter at West Bladen.
“The kids were part of the reality,” he said. “It shows them what it is like to help others. It’s very humbling for the guys.”
On this night it was about getting back to sport.
As Heustess reminded, “It’s always a rivalry when we play them.”
Hurricane or not.
East Bladen’s Ezequiel Arteaga (13) rushes to defend West Bladen’s Andres Gozalez Monroy (15) during first-half action Thursday.
West Bladen’s Andres Gozalez Monroy (15) tries to halt the movement of East Bladen’s Jake Evans (3) during first-half action Thursday.
East Bladen’s Ezequiel Arteaga (13) goes by West Bladen’s Andres Gozalez Monroy (15) during first-half action Thursday.
Alan Wooten can be reached at 910-247-9132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @alanwooten19.