LAURINBURG — For the second straight game, a slow start doomed the Scotland boys soccer team.
A day after allowing five first half goals to Richmond Senior in a 7-1 defeat, the Scots trailed 2-0 at the break Wednesday against Purnell Swett.
And though Scotland eventually tied the game in the second half, the early deficit came back to haunt Danny Gallagher’s team as the Rams escaped Laurinburg with a 3-2 victory. The loss extends Scotland’s losing streak to a season-long five games.
Purnell Swett’s Vidal Velasquez notched a hat trick, scoring all three of the Rams’ goals including the go-ahead goal with 25:47 remaining in the contest.
“I thought the boys played well, they worked hard and they were working together trying to find each other instead of trying to do it individually,” said Purnell Swett coach Alaric Strickland. “They earned this victory and they deserved it.”
The win was Purnell Swett’s first Southeastern Conference victory of the season as the Rams improved to 2-10-2 overall and 1-5 in the SEC. The loss dropped Scotland to 5-8 and 1-5 in conference play.
Purnell Swett struck first when Velasquez scored on an assist from Dawson Brooks 15 minutes into the match. Then with 1:22 remaining before the break, Velasquez tacked on his second score off an assist from Zachary Locklear, booting the ball past Scotland goalkeeper Khalil McNair into the right corner of the net.
The Scots were slow to the ball for much of the first 40 minutes and created few scoring opportunities against a Purnell Swett defense that allowed 24 goals in its previous four games.
“The first half, I told the boys I didn’t feel like anybody got above second or third gear,” Gallagher said. “Everybody was just cruising through and there was a lot of jogging.”
But the Scots came out with a renewed sense of urgency in the second half and found more ways to get the ball to McKenzie White, arguably the team’s best goal-scorer. With 28 minutes left in the game, Jeb Britt connected with White on a long pass through the middle of the field, then White outran the Purnell Swett back line and fired a shot past goalkeeper Joel Lowry to close the gap to 2-1.
“They definitely showed up in the second half,” Gallagher said. “Now, if we can get that effort and that anger and frustration going in the first half, it would make it easier.”
Three minutes later, White scored the equalizer when he worked his way into the box and shrugged off a handful of Rams defenders before finding the back of the net.
After fighting for over 40 minutes to tie the game, it took the Scots less than 30 seconds to give the lead right back to Rams. Velasquez gained possession of the ball in the midfield and blazed through three Scotland defenders on the way to his third goal of the match.
“I think they were so excited because we were getting back into the game and tied it that they kind of lost focus,” Gallagher said. “Everyone was like, ‘We got it now, we can go forward and score lots of goals’ and we forgot out primary goal is to make sure they don’t get anymore. And he ran right down the middle, and it was a good goal by them.”
Scotland had one or two more legitimate chances to knot the game at 3-all, but Velasquez’s score took most of the air out of the Scots’ attack as the Rams held on for the win.
“That shows that they really wanted it — they worked for it and they thought they deserved it and I thought they deserved it as well,” Strickland said. “I didn’t want it to slip away and it didn’t, thankfully. Scotland played a competitive game and it was a good Southeastern Conference soccer game.”
Scotland will play its third contest in as many days today when it hosts Whiteville. Purnell Swett returns to the pitch Oct. 12 at home against Richmond.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.