Stanhope Elmore entered Saturday’s rivalry game with Wetumpka as the favorites but the Mustangs took some time to show up. After a sloppy first half, Stanhope score five goals in the second half, including three from Michol Torres, to walk away with a 6-0 win over the Indians in the Class 6A Section 6 opener.
“I don’t know who they were in the first half,” Stanhope coach Johanna Angelo said. “I told them if we didn’t play better in the second half and start controlling the game, we would have practice right after the game. We were thankful for the second half.”
The Mustangs (4-1-0) had the better chances in the first half but could not string passes together for any clear shots. Stanhope jumped into the lead after Wetumpka goalkeeper Zach Grindle fumbled the ball to the feet of Oscar Garduno who put the ball into the open net to put the Mustangs ahead 1-0 in the 30th minute.
Kyle McManis had three chances in the final 10 minutes of the first half to extend the lead, forcing saves twice, but could not get the ball in the net. Grindle finished the first 40 minutes with seven saves for Wetumpka.
“We have that plague of playing down to the level of our opponents,” Angelo said. “That’s a difficult quality to have. We should be the ones consistently controlling the game and deciding how it will go. We need that to happen from minute one.”
Stanhope certainly stepped up during the second half and made it clear from the start. Rigan Stewart turned a loose ball from a corner kick into the net with his left foot less than three minutes into the second half to double the lead.
“We had them worried in the first half but after that second goal, we lost some confidence,” Wetumpka coach Desmond Knight said. “And when you see that, a good team is going to take advantage of it and Stanhope is a good team.”
The Mustangs continued to pour on the pressure, forcing Grindle into six more saves over the next 10 minutes before adding to their lead again. Torres took a pass from Cristo Rocha before finishing with his left foot into the bottom corner for his first goal of the day.
“We really want to see more of the same now,” Angelo said. “We want to do what we do better and more consistently. The play in the final third has to get sharper and we want to play with more confidence.”
Stanhope started showing that confidence down the stretch, adding to Wetumpka’s deficit with another goal from Stewart in the 60th minute. Stewart was the first to react to a loose ball in the box and headed the ball past the keeper for a 4-0 lead.
“As a center back, my job isn’t to score; it’s to keep that zero,” Stewart said. “So, for us to keep a clean sheet and for me to get two goals for us, that’s just a big deal. My goal is to get one per year so to get two in one game is great.”
Torres completed his hat trick with two goals in the final 15 minutes, including another left-footed stunner from outside the box. His final goal came with under six minutes to go in the match, taking advantage of another goalkeeper mistake and finishing into an open net.
“That’s his style of play,” Angelo said. “He likes to take players on and get cute sometimes, even if it drives me crazy. He’s got a great shot so once he’s relaxed and playing confident, he can start doing those things. The other kids feed off his energy; I just need him to be more consistent.”
Wetumpka (3-2-2) struggled to create chances and forced only two saves from Stanhope goalkeeper Isaac Spikes, both in the first half. The loss was the biggest defeat of the season for the Indians and ended a two-game winning streak.
“We want to use this as a learning experience and a teaching tool,” Knight said. “We knew Stanhope was good and they finished well. Our approach is to try to be more like them and be more resilient. We want to follow their lead because that’s a team with a winning culture.”
The two teams will meet again April 13 at Hohenberg Field in Wetumpka. The Indians are hoping to find drastic improvements over the next month to be more competitive the next time they face the Mustangs.
“With our schedule and the region being so small, it’s hard to tell where your team really is,” Knight said. “Playing a team like Stanhope helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses very quickly. In the month between games I think we’re going to improve.”
Stanhope is still unbeaten on the season and will continue section play with a trip to Calera on Thursday night. While they understand the importance of each game, the Mustangs already have their eyes set on bigger goals.
“It’s really nice to get a big win like this in a rivalry,” Stewart said. “The next stop is Huntsville though. These matches are important, winning the region is important but the big goal is Huntsville.”