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West Craven Soccer Team Back in the Playoffs

Posted Tuesday, November 02, 2010 by Adam Thompson, New Bern Sun Journal

West Craven soccer team back in the playoffs

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Travel to South Johnston

West Craven's Lamberto Gomez dribbles the ball upfield during a game earlier this season. The Eagles travel to South Johnston today for the first round of the 3-A state playoffs.
Sun Journal Staff

VANCEBORO — Being a defender, senior Antonio Labra doesn’t get very many opportunities to score goals.

Against White Oak, in the final game of the regular season, the ball bounced at the foot of Labra, who blasted it into the back of the net. Labra, and junior defender Nick Mitchell accounted for two goals in West Craven’s 3-0 victory Thursday.

“It felt pretty good because it was my second goal ever in four seasons,” Labra said. “The defense actually stopped the ball, but the guy screwed up and it rolled in front of me. All I was thinking was power and to put it in the back of the net.”

The Eagles will hope to build on the moment when they travel to South Johnston for the first round of the 3-A state playoffs tonight. Game time is set for 6 p.m.

Labra, and seven other seniors, were sophomores the last time the Eagles reached the playoffs. They lost to D.H. Conley, 1-0, in their first-ever appearance.

Now, in just its sixth season as a soccer program, West Craven is back. It missed the playoffs by one game last season after dropping a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Havelock in the last match of the season.

Labra said the Eagles have a lot to prove.

“This is my last year here. I want to make sure all of the seniors can make it far in the playoffs,” Labra said. “I think, if we play together, we can really do something this year.”

West Craven (14-4-4), which was selected as a wild card pick in 2008, earned the No. 3 seed out of the Coastal Conference. South Johnston (17-5-1) is the top seed from the Eastern Carolina Conference.

The winner will play either Wilson Hunt (18-2), the No. 2 seed from the Big East Conference, or Hertford County (0-14).

“The first time, we made it dangerous because we had nothing to lose,” said head coach Aaron Steele. “We didn’t expect to be in the playoffs, so we thought what ‘is the worst that could happen?’ Now, we still feel like an underdog and it’s a more focused position.”

Steele, who has been with the soccer program since the inception in 2005, said the Eagles are thriving on playing the underdog role.

“We love the whole aspect of being the underdog,” Steele said. “I don’t ever consider us a powerhouse program. We are the only conference team that doesn’t field a JV. To be in third place is humbling, but we really want to make this something to remember.”

West Craven has one of the most prolific goal scorers in the state — Jaime Cortes, who scored his 49th goal of the season and 100th of his career against White Oak.

But it is more than just Cortez. Sophomore Lamberto Gomez has 16 goals and 30 assists, junior Ryan Hardison has 13 goals and senior Joe Valdez 11 goals.

“(Jaime) knows we try to work out different packages to try to have someone score besides him. He can be utilized as a dangerous crosser, just as much as he is a dangerous one versus one player.”

Defensively, the Eagles are directed by senior goalkeeper Sam Mitchell, who has 330 saves on the season. Labra, Nick Mitchell and Michael Cauley are three of West Craven’s key fullbacks.

“I think, as a defense, we need to make sure Sam (Mitchell) doesn’t get any touches on the ball,” Labra said. “If they get through us, it should be only on the wing side and not through the middle. We want to shut them down.”

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