Smoky Bears find new threats
Sevier County’s boys soccer team had a problem.
Anthony Lemus was good. Too good.
Before suffering a minor knee injury in Morristown last week, the sophomore had made a habit of pouring in three or four goals every night. He had 14 in the season’s first five games, forcing teams to surround him with defenders.
Lemus was so tightly marked in the Rocky Top Cup, Gatlinburg-Pittman coach Zach Schrandt jokingly apologized to Lemus after the Highlanders won 3-1. The Smoky Bears had to find another scorer.
“We had some of these issues with Erick Flores a couple years ago,” said Sevier County coach Bryan Atchley. “He’s the all-time leading goal scorer here at Sevier County. In the couple games he missed junior and senior year, we were looking for him and we were struggling.”
A 1-0 win over Central on Tuesday, with Lemus resting his knee, may have provided the perfect remedy. It was everything Atchley had hoped for: a close game won by a late goal from the Bears’ other sophomore forward, Alex Martinez.
“I didn’t expect that,” Martinez said. “I was just trying my best to score for the team, that was all. … I feel excited. We won for the team.”
The team should only get stronger when Lemus returns to the lineup Friday at Seymour. Without him, it took the offense until the second half to really get going on Tuesday. But after a Kenny Fisher free kick threatened the Bobcats’ goal late in the first half, the Bears started to probe ahead.
Sevier County had much better control of the midfield in the second half, winning 50-50 balls and possessing more. Opportunities from Martinez, Chance Arnold and Hugo Manjarrez came tantalizingly close to breaking the deadlock.
“A lot of times we get fired up when we get close to having goals,” Fisher said. “It just gets us excited. We want it. We’re hungry for it.”
Many of those early opportunities came on balls that were a little bit too long for the Bears’ forwards. Fisher said one of the big adjustments the midfield had to make was to play less direct. Instead of pushing the ball forward where Lemus could “do his thing,” the Bears had to play a little wider and cross the ball into the forwards.
It took until the 68th minute, but it finally paid off when Martinez curled a ball around Central keeper Corey Plont and into the net.
“Sometimes the sun will just smile on you,” Atchley said. “And tonight it did. It was just a big momentum lift.”
Developing additional threats up front means pressuring Lemus won’t shut down the Bears. In a roundabout way, that should free Sevier County’s top striker up and the floodgates will open once again.
“We need to spread out our talent,” Fisher said. “There’s a lot of talent out here we just usually defer to (Lemus) to score. He’s kind of the go-to guy.”