Panthers’ three wins come at high cost

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No. 17 Tyler Suggs scored a hat trick for Smiths Station against Central on March 4. Photo by Josh Fisher / For the Opelika Observer

By JD McCarthy for the Opelika Observer

 In a grueling six-day stretch, the Smiths Station boys’ soccer team came away with three wins in three days and is now focused on its looming matchup with Auburn High.

“We’re better than we were, but we are not where we need to be, by any means,” head coach Jeff Carrero said of his team’s play.

After suffering a 4-1 loss to Northside last Monday, the Panthers responded with wins against Central-Phenix City, Saint James and Guntersville to improve to 5-2-2 on the season. 

Ahead of the Thursday matchup with area rival Central, Carrero was worried with how his team would handle the Red Devils.

“It was great; I was definitely worried. I knew they were big and were fast and that has been the recipe for disaster for us.”

 Despite being banged up, his team put those  worries to bed with a dominant 6-1 victory to pick up its first area game of the season. 

To counter the Red Devils’ athleticism, his team focused on “playing the whole field, playing the ball out wide as we can.”

Smiths took an early 1-0 lead thanks to the first of three goals from Tyler Suggs. After Central tied the game up, Brandon Downey “drilled a beautiful shot” into the corner of the goal to wake the team up. Smiths took a 3-1 lead into the second half and was able to play some freshmen to rest injured players at the end of the game.

“We’re just taking a better shot selection and just finishing better,” Carrero said. “We were trying to score so hard we were making it hard.”

After starting the season slow, the offense has started to come awake, but now needs to become more consistent.

“I’m looking for us to be consistent, work the ball to the outside, move it in and out, change the point of attack,” Carrero said. “Then when we get down there, make the nice easy finish, just direct it into the goal, not slaughter it.”

One of the keys of the offense has been the play of Suggs, who recently received his first scholarship offer from Andrews College in Cuthbert, Georgia.

 “He’s worked hard for it; he’s deserving,” Carrero stated. “He’s worked hard with his grades and worked hard at soccer.”

The offense started slow against Saint James and Guntersville but came alive in the second halves to earn both wins.  

The Panthers’ normally stout defense made a couple of errors against Saint  James, and they entered the half down 0-2. However, the Panthers defense returned to form in the second half and scored four unanswered goals to pick up the win.

They needed another strong second half performance on Saturday to earn the 3-1 victory. They were tied 1-1 at half before Suggs scored his second goal to give them a 2-1 lead before they added on another goal.

“This was our fourth game in six days, and it showed physically but not mentally,” Carrero said. “These games were good but came with a high cost.”

In fact, the Panthers, who already have a small roster, are so injured they won’t be able to play their game against Dothan on Wednesday.

“We know that Central and Auburn are our emphasis, and we are not going to do anything to risk those,” Carrero said.  

Smiths Station and Auburn have both won their lone area games and know both of their matchups will go a long way in determining who wins the area.

“Our new focus is Auburn High,” Carrero said. “With Auburn High in 10 days, we have to heal up and be at 100% to be able to compete at their level.”

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