Battle for the ball

Watauga’s Owen Combes, left, battles Hickory’s Spears Culpepper during their game Sept. 23.

HICKORY — Going into the final stretch of the regular season, the Watauga boys’ soccer team went into the match at rival Hickory on Thursday, Oct. 17, seeking to remain in first place in the Northwestern Conference.

After two first-half goals by David Sprague and a clean sheet in the net by Reilly Riddle, the Pioneers have some breathing room after a 2-0 victory.

“It’s huge, especially against our rival Hickory,” said head coach Josh Honeycutt. “We’ve gone back and forth over the last few years, sharing a conference championship. It’s typically a battle between us and them. To go down there, beat them twice (this season) and give us some separation between us and them is huge.”

The win for Watauga (12-5-1, 8-1) at Hickory (12-5-3, 6-3) keeps the Pioneers in first place ahead of the Red Tornadoes and South Caldwell, who is 6-2 in conference play. The victory also extends Watauga’s current win streak to six matches, including a second-straight shut out.

According to Honeycutt, both of Sprague’s goals were similar in that the team played good combinations, 1-2’s and Sprague finished a through-ball at the back post.

The assists came from Ayden Franklin and James Privette, according to Honeycutt.

Keeping possession was key to scoring the goals, but Honeycutt gave credit to the Pioneers’ defense for its second straight shut-out.

“Defensively, we were really really solid and Hickory has speed, so we did really well to maintain their speed, keep up with their speed and play solid defense,” Honeycutt said. “We were able to track their runners, get depth and coverage, we always had a second man there. (The defense) moved as a unit, shifted well and connected well.”

“Reilly Riddle absolutely made some amazing saves to keep us a clean sheet; he had a fantastic game,” Honeycutt said.

WHS has three matches left in the regular season. The first comes on Monday, Oct. 21, versus St. Stephens. The Indians gave Watauga their only NWC lost of the season in the first meeting between the two teams on Sept. 25, coming away with a 5-4 victory in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw after regulation and overtime down at St. Stephens.

That loss is one Honeycutt definitely wants back.

“We get them at home, so they got to come to us and play us on our field, our turf,” Honeycutt said. “That being our only loss, we really want to seek a little revenge, a little redemption. We want to maintain possession, knock the ball around and be dangerous in the attack.”

After St. Stephens, WHS travels to McDowell on Wednesday, Oct. 25, for their final regular season away match before returning home for the season finale on Monday, Oct. 28, versus Freedom.

“We’re playing good right now, (but) we’ve got to stay hungry,” Honeycutt added.

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