BOONVILLE — For only the third time in school history, the Starmount Rams punched their ticket to the fourth round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs. On a chilly Wednesday night, Starmount (20-1-2) hosted Highlands (15-8-2) in the third round of the playoffs.
Although the temperature was below 40 degrees, the heat on the field was off the charts. The Rams came out firing to take a 4-0 win to advance to the fourth round, and are now the only Mountain Valley Athletic Conference team left in the playoffs.
In the opening minutes, Starmount wasted no time in making advancements on the Highlands’ goal. The Rams earned a corner kick in the sixth minute, but the ball went over the goal. Starmount didn’t let up its pressure and kept taking shot after shot. Highlands put its own spin on the ball in the ninth minute with its first shot on goal.
The Highlanders put another shot at goal less than 30 seconds later after beating two Starmount defenders. The ball was saved by Lucas Zamora, which gave the Rams a breakaway opportunity. The breakaway came up short as the Highlanders were able to step on the brakes in the back half of the field.
For the first 20 minutes, Starmount put pressure through the midfield with crisp passes that put the Highlanders on their heels. With 22 minutes left in the first half, Andres Ocampo beat a defender and fired the ball into the back of the net to give Starmount the lead. After the first goal was taken care of, Starmount started to settle down all around the field.
The Rams did everything right through the first half to add another goal, but the Highlanders’ back line was a brick wall that couldn’t be broken through. With a four-man back line in the way, the Rams had to find different ways to score a goal. If the Rams did end up breaking through the back line, finishing wasn’t on their side. Starmount had several shots on goal in the first 20 minutes but only one found the back of the net.
With 2:15 left in the first half Starmount saw its second goal on the horizon. During a corner kick, the Highlanders keeper came off of the line and the Rams tried to put the ball into the net. Somehow Highlands was able to keep the ball out of the net and keep the score 1-0 at halftime.
In the opening eight minutes of the second half, Starmount was able to come up with a penalty kick after being pulled down in the box. Jonathan Flores lined up to take the shot and put the ball into the net to give the Rams a 2-0 lead.
Starmount found its groove after the second goal, as Jayven Najera put his name on the sheet four minutes later. From 22 yards out, Najera put a rocket into the back of the net for a 3-0 lead. Jordan Anderson gave Starmount a 4-0 lead in the 30th minute, and the rest was history.
With the win, the Rams will move on to the fourth round where they will face Bishop McGuinness (16-2-3) on Saturday. Kick-off time for Saturday’s game is at 5 p.m. in Winston-Salem.
Starmount will be going into Saturday’s game as the underdog, but the Rams are ready to prove how good of a team they are this season. Bishop has a No. 2 seed, which means the Rams (No. 3) will be on the road for the first time this playoff season.
Bishop is 10-0 at home, while Starmount is 8-1 when playing away. The Rams have scored 152 goals this season, and only allowed 12. Bishop has scored 94 goals and allowed 19. The match-up will be one for the history books as both teams are coming off successful regular season wins, and playoff victories.
The winner of Saturday’s game will move on to Regionals and face the winner of the Mount Airy/Pine Lake Prep game.