Cleveland’s Lady Raiders closed out their regular soccer season Thursday night with a dominating 7-0 victory over Grace Baptist Academy.
Played at the Greater Cleveland Soccer Complex on Mouse Creek Road, the host Lady Raiders were never seriously threatened in the game.
The win, Cleveland’s 10th in 18 matches (with two ties), was a good warm-up for the start of the District 5-AAA tournament this weekend. The Lady Raiders, seeded No. 2 behind highly-regarded Soddy-Daisy, will be host to seventh-seeded Rhea County in the first round. The match will be played at 7 p.m. at the Complex.
“This was a good win for our seniors,” said coach Andy Byrd at the end of Thursday’s victory. “Our seniors (seven) have done a lot for this team and their parents have been tremendous supporters of our program.”
The seniors and their parents were recognized at halftime.
The seniors also figured strongly in postgame statistics in the win over Grace. Devon Vaughn and Katelyn McChesney each scored a goal in the contest. Other seniors were standouts for the dominating Cleveland defense.
Senior goalkeeper Alison Simpson had another standout game, although she touched the ball very few times. She was switched to the offensive end for the final minutes of the game.
“This was a good match for us as we prepare for the start of the district tournament,” Byrd emphasized. “We’ll be involved in some tough competition down the road, and this win should relax our girls somewhat.”
The Lady Raiders, who have played some of the state’s best soccer teams this season, will be among the favorites in district play. Byrd anticipates Soddy-Daisy and McMinn County will be the top challengers to Cleveland’s title hopes.
Soddy-Daisy is the No. 1 seed, but has a bye in the first round.
Bradley’s other two district members, Bradley Central and Walker Valley, will also be involved in first-round play this weekend. Bradley Central will play at 4:30 p.m. today at Ooltewah, while Walker Valley coach Tom Bayliss said his Lady Mustangs play at 6 p.m. Saturday at McMinn County (with the game being played at the old McMinn County High School)
Tournament play will continue Tuesday at the home of the highest seed advancing from the first round. The championship match is scheduled next Thursday.
Cleveland is hoping to make it to the title match. If the Lady Raiders advance opposite Soddy-Daisy, the championship event will be on the Lady Trojans’ field. If Cleveland advances against anyone else, the title event will be at the Greater Cleveland Soccer Complex.
Byrd and his coaching assistants have been busy figuring up the final statistics for the regular season ... and Thursday’s performance was a positive addition.
Junior Kaitlyn Poulakis had another outstanding performance for the Lady Raiders. Cleveland’s midfielder hit two long kicks early in the match after getting by Grace defenders. Poulakis’ first goal came at the 34:49 mark, and she added another shot at 33:20.
Grace’s defense then settled down somewhat, keeping the Lady Raiders out of the net until late in the opening period.
Vaughn had something to say for the seniors, as she controlled a bobble by the Grace goalie and sent the ball into the net with 3:38 remaining in the first period.
Cleveland added a fourth goal before intermission when junior Darby Keith fired a kick over a Grace defender from the right side. The ball sailed by the goalie for a 4-0 halftime lead.
The Lady Raiders added three goals in the second period, with more than 90 percent of the action being played in front of the Grace goal.
Standout freshman McKenzie Harris connected on Cleveland’s fifth goal from deep on the right side with only 10 seconds gone in the period. Freshman Calli Baker was successful on the sixth goal with 15:55 left in the match.
McChesney then had a final say for the seniors, ending the scoring with 13:20 left. She caught the ball as it bounced off a pole and put it into the net for the final score of the regular season.