GREEN COVE SPRINGS - Clay High boys soccer coach Joshua Bookstore has been low key about his Blue Devils opening the 2019 season with four straight wins up to a clash with also unbeaten Baker County High School (6-0) on Fri., Dec. 6 at Clay High School.
"It's been a long time since Clay soccer has had this kind of start and I understand that we have scored a bunch of goals and all, but that our opponents will start to get stronger as we go," said Bookstore, in his third season as head coach. "Guys like Victor Hesterman are bringing the program around and working to make it competitive again. Clay was not in a good spot for a long time."
Bookstore got rolling in the Keystone Heights preseason tournament a month ago with a 1-1 tie with the now 7-1-1 Indians and thought that game was a good push for the regular season.
"They saw what they were capable of doing if they play fundamental soccer and as a team," said Bookstore. "We have a bunch of scrappy, fast moving players. The goals mostly come from break aways and one-on-one situations. It's more of a team effort which is fantastic."
Against Baker County, Clay, without team leader Nick Tillis due to injury, opened with a breakaway goal from Matthew Pellegrini who got a throw-in from Hesterman just ahead of the Wildcat defense.
Up 1-0, Clay kept attacking the Baker County defensive line with officials calling numerous offside runs from the speedy forwards.
Bookstore adjusted the attack by telling his attackers to hold off a step on the feeds over top to keep the officials honest on the attack.
The switch in offense gave Clay deeper runs and with 3:50 left in the half, Wendy Charles was tasked with a penalty kick after a scrum in front of the Baker County goal. Charles nailed the kick to put Clay up 2-0 for the first half.
Clay nearly got a third goal with 25 seconds to go, but Jaxon Forkey was caught offsides.
In the second half, goalie Nolan Evers made a superb snag of a Baker County corner kick, but the Wildcats came right back with a swift score at 19:03 to put the game at 2-1.
Just two minutes later, Baker County scored again to tie the game at 2-2.
Outside midfielder Cristian Hunter nearly broke in for a shot on goal at 14:38, but the ball whizzed just over the cross bar. Clay continued to hammer the Baker County goal with Charles finding Matthew Carlton on a break.
With 4:20 left, Evers got his hands on a Baker County corner kick, but did not secure the ball that bounced behind him for the gamewinner, 3-2.
Clay returned to the Wins column with a 2-1 win over Middleburg on Mon., Dec. 9.
For Clay (5-1), goals came from Cristian Hunter and Reece Paradise.
Clay gets Bishop Snyder on Fri., Dec. 13 with Keystone Heights hosting the Blue Devils on Mon., Dec. 16.