BOONVILLE - Coley McCulloch’s deep free kick assist to a breaking, wide-open Ashton Gant proved to be the difference in Wednesday’s Battle of the Bridge match.
Gant’s late goal at the 19:10 mark of the second half gave the Buckin’ Elks a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Starmount in the annual rivalry matchup.
“We snuck one in, and it could have gone either way,” Elkin head coach Joe McCulloch explained. “Ashton made a great run and Coley has a big foot. If we can get on the end of that, swinging out and he’s coming in; he volleyed it beautifully. Those you can’t practice. A little bit of luck was on our side tonight.”
The lone goal proved to be the difference in a defensive stalemate, highlighted by the play of goalkeeper’s Jesus Rivera (Elkin) and Daniel Stinson (Starmount).
“I think we have to give the game ball to our keeper Jesus Rivera, he came up with some big saves,” McCulloch said. “They were pushing everyone forward. They’re good, they’re quick, they’re fast; and I just thought we did a good job at containing some of their speed. When they got behind us, we had other people step up defensively and play real big.”
Rivera recorded 17 saves on the night - including a handful of diving saves on shots in the box - while Stinson stopped seven shots.
Starmount controlled possession throughout the game and out-shot Elkin 21-9 on shots on goal, but were unable to find the back of the net.
“I was very disappointed in how we played in both halves,” Rams head coach Dale Draughn explained. “Take nothing away from Elkin, they played hard and made the most of shots on goals, where we did not. We out-shot them on goal, but what matters is they got one in the back of the net as we did not.
“We did not play team ball tonight, it was a lot of individual ball and some team,” he continued. “Maybe this is an eye-opener. We have preached in practice, but they having a hard time transferring what we do in practice to a game situation. We looked rusty and we never got into the flow of the game and credit Elkin for that. We have to learn from this and move forward, if not it is going to be a long season for us.”
McCulloch credited his team for playing a complete game, unlike in past losses.
“We played well against Ashe County [4-1 loss last week], but I thought we could have played better. And they took that personally,” he explained. “It’s a good, friendly rivalry and I feel very lucky to come out of here with a win; it could have gone either way, but we lucked out.
“We played 80 minutes of soccer tonight - we’ve played 60 and 40 and sort of lost our head, but we fought through this one,” McCulloch added. “This [win] will do a lot for our momentum. We’ve taken some tough losses against good teams, but now we know that we can compete, because Starmount is a great team.”
With the win, Elkin improves to 4-3 on the season, including a 2-1 mark in the Mountain Valley Conference. Starmount falls to 3-2-1 and 1-2 in conference play.
The Elks return to the field against West Wilkes Monday, while the Rams travel to Ashe County Tuesday.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.