The Grand Island Senior High boys soccer team extended its winning streak against Lincoln East to six matches during Thursday’s season opener at Memorial Stadium.
But this one came with one extra benefit for the Islanders missing from the prior wins – breathing room.
Lucas Venegas scored twice to lead Class A preseason No. 4-rated Grand Island to a 4-0 win over the No. 7 Spartans.
All of the Islanders’ goals came in the second half.
“The first half we just played sloppy,” G.I. coach Jeremy Jensen said. “We went into the locker room at halftime and just tried to regroup a little bit. I think everybody was excited to get out on the field, and you saw a lot of helter-skelterness out of our team.
“In the second half I think they just decided to settle down and play. It worked out for us.”
The final score was an irregularity in the recent series. Both of Grand Island’s wins over Lincoln East went to shootouts last year.
The final two wins in three meetings in 2011 came by one goal with the Islanders scoring the game-winner in the final 30 seconds.
Jensen could see another game come down to the final seconds after the first half.
“The first half I was a little bit concerned,” he said. “The coaching staff kept talking on the sidelines trying to figure out what combination we could put in the midfield to give us a little spark. We had a couple of (goals) that were called for offsides. It’s just the inexperience of the guys with the timing of their runs.
“I was proud of them. I thought they adjusted well in the second half.”
And the adjustments paid off.
After having two goals not count due to offsides, Grand Island finally got a score that counted 3:33 into the second half.
Sophomore Elmer Garcia’s low shot from 25 yards out eluded Lincoln East backup goalkeeper Trey MacKnight.
MacKnight replaced starter Mike Rilett with 4:02 left in the first half. Rilett hit the ground hard on his right side after going up for a ball and rolling over the backs of a pair of teammates.
He stood on the sidelines with his right arm in a sling during the second half.
Jensen said Rilett is a difference-maker.
“Mike’s a terrific goalkeeper. The last couple of years I’ve voted him all-state,” he said. “I think he’s just fantastic. You hate seeing something like that happen to him because a separated shoulder like that, he’s probably out for the year and he’s a senior.
“I feel bad for the kid because we’ve had some tight games and he’s been a big part of the reason for that. He’s kept them in so many games.”
The Islanders made it 2-0 at 48:40. A long pass from Quin Stolz sprung Venegas free, and he beat the defense down the left side before angling a shot into the net.
MacKnight made a big point-blank save on Omar Torres with just over 23 minutes left in the game to keep the Grand Island lead at two.
But Venegas again got set up by a long pass and broke downfield to put the Islanders up 3-0 just over a minute later at 58:00.
“That’s usually the way I score. My teammates set me up and I beat teams to the ball,” Venegas said. “I guess that’s my specialty — finishing.
Lucho Raymundo put away a rebound of a Garcia shot to make it 4-0 at 67:51.
“Once we got the first goal by Elmer Garcia, it just opened up the gate,” Venegas said. “Floodwaters. We came back with three goals and sealed it.”
Jensen said a young midfield performed well in a big test to open the season. He felt Torres was a standout. Torres, who split time at goalkeeper with Danny Gamboa last year, was moved into the starting lineup 30 minutes before the game started due to an absence.
“Omar Torres really came on,” Jensen said. “He was in competition for the goalkeeping spot, and he played in the midfield. He played great for us.
“We were playing without Saul Castillo in this game, so it was a big lift to have somebody like that step up and show he can do it.”
Gamboa and a veteran Islander defense combined to shut out Lincoln East for the fourth time during their win streak against the Spartans.
“There were times I was a little worried about some of the communication stuff going on,” Jensen said. “But overall I thought they played well. Danny didn’t have to make any tough saves.”
The Islanders left happy with how their season started.
“Beating East 4-0 isn’t something you do every day,” Venegas said. “It’s a great test for us. They’re an awesome team.
“I think having the home crowd advantage definitely helped us out. After halftime we came out on fire.”
Lincoln East 10, Grand Island 0
Carly Janike and Jordan Arndt each recorded a hat trick to help Class A preseason No. 7-rated Lincoln East cruise past an overmatched young Grand Island Senior High squad 10-0 Thursday.
The game ended with 27:49 remaining due to the 10-goal differential mercy rule.
“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be very, very difficult,” Grand Island coach Debora Carpenter said. “I think the girls – with how new we are and the youth we have – really played well. They really had the heart.
“The difference is Lincoln East has the passing and the support. They’re just a very strong team, and we knew that.”
The Spartans broke the game wide open by scoring four times in a span of 3:13 to go up 6-0 at 27:45.
Allison Key, Grace Iaquinta, Abby Hansen and Josie Knapp also scored for Lincoln East.
The Spartans made it difficult for the Islanders to get the ball past midfield, and G.I. never generated a scoring chance.
Carpenter stressed to her team after the game not to let the outcome of one contest get them down.
“Just keep their heads up,” she said was her main message. “We have a game on Saturday (against North Platte) and we need to be focused on them going forward.
“(Lincoln East) played outstanding today, and this shows us not only what we need to do in practice but also to focus as a group to be able to move forward.”