ELKIN - Fifteenth-ranked Elkin edged upset-minded East Wilkes 3-1 Wednesday night to remain in control for the 1A championship in the Mountain Valley Conference.
Powered by two first-half goals, the Elks managed to hold off a pesky Cardinals side that scrapped until the final whistle.
“I’m not satisfied with the way we played, but I am extremely happy that we won,” head coach Joe McCulloch explained. “We talk about it all the time that any team can beat you anytime. We just never got going; never got into a rhythm. And credit goes to them, they kept us out of our rhythm. We just have to get started early and keep up the intensity.
“We played well enough to win tonight and they played well enough to beat us,” he added. “As we get into the second half of the season now and looking to the playoffs, we have to get hungry and want to win more.”
Andrew Palaez put Elkin on the board early when he found the back of the net at the 35:46 mark as the Elks peppered the Cardinal goal with shots early.
After coming close throughout the half, Carlos Trejo broke through and picked up a loose ball on a corner kick and poked it in to give Elkin a 2-0 lead at the break.
A determined East Wilkes team cut into the lead with an early goal to open the second half when Tristan Davis found the back of the net to bring the Cards within win at 2-1.
As both sides fought throughout the game, four yellow cards were issued, including two on East Wilkes head coach Dan Prouty, resulting in his ejection.
On the ensuing free kick from Prouty’s dismissal, Elkin’s Daniel Cortez bent the ball around the Cardinal wall and into the corner of the net for an insurance goal as the Elks went up 3-1.
From there, Elkin’s defense turned away East chances, sealing the win.
The Elks improved to 8-4 on the year, including a 6-2 mark in conference play. The six wins puts Elkin in third place in the standings, only one win behind leaders Ashe County (7-0) and Forbush (7-1).
The Elks lead the race for the top 1A seed out of the MVAC by four games over 2-5 West Wilkes. North (1-6) and East Wilkes (0-8) round out the 1A standings.
Despite the four-game lead, McCulloch warned his team about getting “too comfortable.”
“I don’t want them to get comfortable,” he explained. “They are getting complacent, instead of wanting to make statements. We have a potential to compete for the conference championship.
“We have to beat West, we only beat North by one and we were lucky to get out of here with a win, so [winning the 1A] is not a given. We just can’t get comfortable like we’re on cruise control from here to the end,” McCulloch added.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.