Darton State College’s Troy Tucker, who scored the Cavs’ first goal in Monday’s game against Western Wyoming Community College, takes a shot during the first half.
ALBANY — Darton College felt the pressure of being the top-ranked team in the country at home in the opener of the NJCAA National Tournament.
Then, they dealt with it accordingly.
The Cavs, the No. 1 seed at nationals, put away Western Wyoming Community College, 3-1, in the opening round of pool play Monday. Darton, now 18-0 on the season, only needs to beat Western Texas Wednesday to reach the semifinals for the second consecutive season.
“Yeah, there is a lot of pressure being ranked No. 1,” Cavs’ head coach Bart Sasnett said. “Playing at home is an advantage, but you also feel like if you don’t win, you didn’t do a good job.”
The Cavaliers have not lost at home since October 2009 and don’t plan on doing it again any time soon.
They took a 2-1 lead over Western Wyoming CC (14-10) late into the second half before Barrington Wright scored on a free kick with 7:37 remaining. The goal was set up after Darton’s Troy Tucker was taken down inside the box.
Darton had 16 shots on goal to the Mustangs’ two. The Cavs had been off for two weeks after capturing the Region XVII title.
“I expected some rust, but I still think we played pretty well,” Sasnett said. “(The first win) is the hardest one.”
Darton took a 2-1 lead 16 minutes before half on Jowayne Laidley’s one-time footer in front of the net on a feed from Alejandro Garcia.
“It’s all about finishing, and we wanted to put them away early,” Laidley said.
Western Wyoming knotted things up in the 36th minute when Jarom Stewart found the back of the net in the top left corner on a header off a corner kick.
The shot was the Mustangs’ only attempt of the first half, but they made it count.
The Cavs took early control of the game on Tucker’s free kick that ricocheted off the goalpost and then deflected off keeper Mitch Jensen into the net for a 1-0 lead just four minutes in.
Darton outshot Western Wyoming 9-1 in the first half.
“We don’t feel any pressure,” Laidley said. “We’ve been training all season for this. We are No. 1 and you can’t be too cocky. It comes down to hard work.”
Darton will play its second game in pool play Wednesday against No. 8 seed Western Texas (10-2), which is ranked 11th in the NJCAA national poll.
All the higher seeds — Tyler, Monroe, Louisburg and Darton — won Monday. Western Texas and Western Wyoming play today at 5 p.m. in Darton’s pool. The Cavs are off until Wednesday’s tilt with Western Texas at noon.