Oliver paces St. C. boys

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Cambridge has always given St. Clairsville fits in boys’ high school action.

Not Tuesday night.

After spotting the visiting Bobcats an early 1-0 lead, the Red Devils exploded for the final seven net-finders in a 7-1 victory in a mutual season-opener on the turf at sun-splashed Red Devil Stadium.

“This a great way to start the season, and a great confidence boost for a pretty young squad,” St. Clairsville head coach Gary Watt said. “Especially a defensive unit that hasn’t had a lot of time on the field together. They looked real cohesive.”

Cambridge’s Seth Rhodes banked the ball off the right post and into the net 7-minutes, 16-seconds into the contest, but the Bobcats could only muster up two shots in the remaining 82:44.

Meanwhile, junior Zach Oliver stole the show, offensively, as he tickled the twine four times on a variety of moves.

“I’ve never scored four goals in a game in my life until tonight,” the soft-spoken Oliver explained. “It feels pretty good. I have to give my teammates a lot of credit for getting me the ball.”

Just under nine minutes after Cambridge scored, St. Clairsville’s Dylan Panepucci drew his team even when he worked his way around a Bobcats defender in the middle of the field about 20 yards in front of the net. He pushed the ball towards the net with his left foot, and it somehow found its way through the legs of Cambridge goalkeeper Michael Mercer with 14:04 elapsed. Senior Taylor Wissman charted the first of his two assists.

Exactly nine minutes later, the fleet-footed Oliver took a pass in the middle of the field 25 yards from the goal. After controlling the rolling sphere with a pair of Bobcats around him, he spun to his left before sending laser along the rug that zipped past a bewildered Mercer for a 2-1 lead the hosts would never relinquish.

“That was a force of habit,” Oliver said.

Oliver made it 3-1 when he blasted the ball into the back of the net from just outside the box with 9:19 remaining in the first half. Wissman upped the count to 4-1 when his bullet was too hot to handle as it glanced off Mercer’s hand into the cage with 4:44 left on the first-half clock.

Oliver was streaking to the net early in the second half when he was pushed from behind in the box, thus drawing a penalty kick. He buried it to the left of a helpless Mercer for his third tally of the night, making it 5-1 with 34:18 to play.

He wasn’t finished, however, as he took a pass from Panepucci all alone on the right wing. He dribbled the ball in from the 30-yard line before unleashing a rocket from the 10 that whizzed into the net for 6-1 reading.

“Zach was the show,” Watt said of Oliver. “I’ve never had a kid score four goals in a game during my tenure here as head coach, and this is my eighth year. I have high hopes for him this season. He has great speed. He has a good touch.”

Wissman concluded the scoring with a header into the net off a corner kick by Ty Boone. Wissman finished with two goals and a pair of assists.

“Taylor is special,” Watt allowed. “He makes our offense move. He controls the middle of the field.”

Watt also praised the play of Panepucci and freshman Jordan Vincent.

“Dylan stepped up in a big way. He owned the middle of the field with Taylor. With those two together with Jarrett (Helms) and Ty on the sides feeding them the ball, I feel pretty good about our chances.

“Jordan is a name that people are going to remember around her for some time,” Watt admitted. “You keep your eye on that kid. He’s going to be something special.”

St. Clairsville goalies Izaac Wiley and Devin Case were only called upon to make two saves.

Wiley, the starter, played most of the contest.

The Red Devils, who travel to Steubenville Central Thursday, were credited with 15 shots.

St. Clairsville 7, Cambridge 1

C-Goal by: Rhodes; Goalkeeper: Mercer (15 shots, 8 saves)

STC-Goals by: Oliver 4, Wissman 2, Panepucci; Assists by: Wissman 2, Panepucci; Goalkeepers:?Wiley and Case (3 shots, 2 saves)

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com