SANFORD — Setting the tone early in Wednesday’s match, the Richmond boys’ soccer team won its first Sandhills Athletic Conference game.
Beginning SAC play on the road at Southern Lee High School, a team that defeated the Raiders three times last season, Richmond collected a 3-2 victory.
Junior striker James Eason added to his season goal total, notching two of the scores for the Raiders. Sophomore forward Noah Gil was responsible for the eventual game-winning goal, his first of the season.
Head coach Chris Larsen has been impressed with the Raiders’ play over their first five matches, and said the effort put forth by his team on Wednesday was a difference maker.
“We were able to come out and get on top first to set the tone,” Larsen said. “That’s a change for us because we haven’t been able to do that much except in our win over Purnell Swett. That gave us confidence and allowed us to settle in and play.”
Eason, who is tied with Jesus Castro for the team lead in goals with three this season, gave Richmond a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute. He made a run inside the 18-yard box, moved past a defender and slotted the ball inside the right post with a low shot.
The Cavaliers (2-2, 0-1 SAC) knotted the game in the 33rd minute on a goal by Erik Gutierrez. The 1-1 tie would hold until halftime.
“We didn’t do a good job clearing the ball out on the goal that tied the match in the first half,” Larsen said. “But that was one of only a few mistakes we made tonight.
“The guys did a good job of responding in the second half with two more well-earned goals,” he added. “James’ was a nice strike and Noah scoring should give him some confidence moving forward.”
In the 45th minute, Eason found the back of the net for the second time, lacing a strike “from 35 yards.”
Gil helped add to the lead in the 49th minute, collecting a bouncing ball and sending it into the twine through traffic. Castro sent a free kick on net that was saved, and the third-chance ball found Gil, who used his left foot to score a tight-angled shot.
Southern Lee tried to rally with a goal in the 66th minute, but Richmond’s defense and sophomore goalkeeper Adrian Padron shut the Cavs down.
“In the last 12 minutes we switched it up and tried not to get countered,” Larsen said. “The guys did a good job of clearing the ball out and alleviating the pressure. Adrian played lights out tonight, collected everything in his way and made several 1v1 saves.
“Hopefully tonight showed the guys that if they believe in themselves and play well, it’s going to show on the scoreboard at the end of games,” he closed. “Getting our first conference win should give us some confidence moving forward.”
The Raiders (2-2-1, 1-0 SAC) return to non-conference play on Thursday at Lumberton High School. Junior varsity will start at 5 p.m., followed by varsity at 7 p.m.
Note: Deon Cranford contributed to this article.