After playing together for nearly a decade, Southern Nash midfielder Ismael Rodriguez knew exactly where his teammate was heading. On the other end, Moises Gonzalez saw the open space in Rocky Mount High’s back line and went for it.
In full stride, Gonzalez received the pass and easily scored Friday.
As the two came to the sideline, first-year coach Kurt Bienias yelled to his top two offensive players at Rocky Mount High School.
“You know I don’t like the long ball,” he said. “But that was the most beautiful one I’ve seen in a while.”
Gonzalez figured into three more goals in the second half – giving him two goals and three assists – as Southern Nash cruised past Rocky Mount, 5-1, and claimed the No. 2 seed in the Big East Conference Tournament.
“It was important for me to get involved and get my teammates scoring,” Gonzalez said. “We’re trying to get our confidence up. I want my team to know that I want them to score.”
Although the Firebirds’ goal at the beginning of the season was to win the conference, Bienias was willing to settle for second place at this point.
“I think we can play up against most teams in the state,” he said. “I think we could have won the conference. I didn’t get it done as a coach against Hunt. ... I think we’re going to surprise some teams when we get to the state playoffs.”
From the beginning with a man-mark on Gonzalez, the Gryphons were able to keep up. Rocky Mount even had the better of the scoring chances through the first 15 minutes.
Even after Southern Nash (14-5, 7-2 Big East) took a two-goal lead, Rocky Mount didn’t fold.
Brandon Rotimi scored with five minutes to play in the first half, but once the second half started, Southern Nash’s possession offense controlled the pace.
“They’re a quality team. We weren’t on our ‘A’ game, by no means, not compared to our last several outings. ... We certainly had to be on our ‘A’ game.”
Rocky Mount travels to face Northern Nash on Wednesday in a game that could decide the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament and potentially a wild-card spot in the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs.
“We played hard at times, and then, the other times we were very complacent in our play on the field,” Nick said. “Simple as that, you can’t be complacent.”
When Rocky Mount (8-9-2, 2-5-2) was complacent, Gonzalez took control. On all three of his assists – one in the first half and two in the second – Gonzalez went on long runs before leaving the ball for a teammate. Juan Garcia finished midway through the first half, while Rodriguez and Trey Jerman scored easy goals in the second half.
“He makes us want to play to the best of our abilities every time he’s on the field,” Rodriguez said of Gonzalez. “We appreciate everything he does for us.”
Southern Nash guaranteed itself a home playoffs game barring a string of upsets in the conference tournament with a victory.
“It’s very important to get a home game,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll have home advantage with our crowd. We have a small field, and we’re used to playing on that field.”
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com