Moreno, Panthers top Bruins 2-0 in EPC tilt

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A strong Beddingfield High contingent that gathered for the Bruins’ senior night activities was on the verge, ready to erupt in support at the first signs of life from the Bruins during Tuesday’s varsity boys soccer match against North Johnston.

Panthers senior goalkeeper Jonie Moreno had other ideas.

Moreno did his part in throwing a wet blanket on the Bruins’ celebration, saving a first-half penalty kick as part of his eight saves in a 2-0 North Johnston victory that expelled Beddingfield from a share of the lead in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference.

Coming off a 2-1 win over Nash Central last Thursday, the Bruins dropped to 8-3-2 overall and 4-2 in conference play. North Johnston, which completed the season sweep of the Bruins, evened its record at 7-7-1 and pulled into a second-place tie alongside the Bruins in the EPC.

“Getting a two-goal lead, we’ve been pretty strong at defending all year,” first-year North Johnston head coach Winston Pennington said. “And Jonie came up with some timely saves. (Beddingfield) has a couple of really exceptional players that we were really trying to isolate and keep them away. I told them at half, if they’re shooting from 20 yards out, (Moreno’s) going to get in front of that. 

“Our biggest issue tonight was we gave up a lot of bad fouls and made some poor decisions. But ultimately, that’s when your keeper steps  up.”

Moreno did just that, facing a penalty kick in the 12th minute after junior defender Dylan Pitts was whistled for a handball in the box. Beddingfield freshman John Becerril took it, but Moreno was able to read Becerril’s intent and deflect it away.

“I just waited to see where the ball went,” Moreno said of his penalty-kick stop. “As soon as he kicked it, I just threw myself that way. It’s just fast reflexes, I guess.”

Moreno, who collected six of his eight saves in the first half, turned the Bruins away from close range in the 14th. Sophomore Rogelio Ortiz-Flores ran onto a Beddingfield free kick follow, but Moreno was there to collect the save.

North Johnston, coming off a pair of shutout losses to Farmville Central and Nash Central, picked up its first goal off a corner kick in the early going. Junior Graham Walston launched the service into the box, allowing senior midfielder Blaine Crocker to send it by junior Beddingfield keeper Bryan Rico for the early lead.

“The first couple minutes, I think you can blame coach for a slightly different starting (lineup) for Senior Night,” Beddingfield head coach Mark Aldrich said. “I think it might have defended the corner slightly different had people been...you can blame me on that.”

Superior shot-making foiled Beddingfield in the 15th, with sophomore striker Cavin Davis getting his right foot into a ball from 30 yards out and tucking it into the corner past a helpless Rico.

“We’ve had trouble all year shooting,” Pennington said. “We just don’t shoot. So we’ve really been working on shooting, shooting, shooting and getting these guys to drive into space and just get the ball off their foot. Their keeper mishandled a couple of balls, and actually, had we had someone crashing the goal a little bit better, we probably could have created more chances.”

Beddingfield, looking to at least halve the margin, drew a number of free kicks and corners in the second half, but the trio of junior Tihago Uhalde, junior Austin Holland and freshman Andrew Stancil were prepared to turn the Bruins away.

“We probably put a little pressure on ourselves probably because it was Senior Night,” Aldrich said. “I think some of them did early. There was plenty of good movement and communication. I thought Noe (Mendoza) at left back played a very good game, playing defense and creating opportunities.”

Pushing numbers forward the final six minutes, Ortiz-Flores slammed a shot off the crossbar with 2:21 remaining. The officials keeping the time on the field blew the whistle to end the match with 45 seconds left on the clock. But after a brief discussion, the teams were ushered back out to play out the closing ticks. Key for North Johnston was limiting freshman Apolinar Fuentes in space.

“I feel like we got too confident with our last win,” Beddingfield senior midfielder Andrew Aquilera said. “But if we would have just connected passes better and finished all those finishes — if we had actually finished — we would have actually won.”

Beddingfield, which will play its final four regular-season matches on the road, came up short on Senior Night festivities for Ernesto Toribio, Aquilera, Yahir Trejo, Orlando Leon-Yepez and Reynaldo Eric Segura Arizpe.

“The pressure will be on us now,” Aldrich said. “Now, we’re going to be playing on other people’s Senior Nights. Now we’re visiting. We can’t surprise anybody going in.”

North Johnston is home to SouthWest Edgecombe on Thursday.

“A victory on their Senior Night,” Moreno said. “So we ruined it up. And it’s just a lovely experience.”