The nation’s leading goal scorer in men’s soccer doesn’t play for one of the sport’s traditional powers.
Instead, Denzel Clarke’s 15 goals this season have come for Gardner-Webb’s Bulldogs, a team making a late-season run in the mid-major Big South.
Clarke, a junior striker from Atlanta, has been scoring goals in bunches. He has three hat tricks (against UNC Asheville, Presbyterian and Wofford), the first time a Bulldogs player has done that in the program’s Division I history.
“There are times when I can get on a scoring streak,” said Clarke. “I’m more of a target player, so I try to hold the ball up and put together combinations with my teammates and make space for them to run into.”
Clarke has played soccer since he was 3 and was introduced to the sport by his dad, Rupert, a native of Jamaica. Denzel was lightly recruited out of Greater Atlanta Christian School, but fell in love with the Gardner-Webb when he visited the Bulldogs’ campus in Boiling Springs in Cleveland County.
After scoring four goals as a freshman and one as a sophomore, Clarke nearly matched his career total by scoring three against Wofford in this season’s opening game. He hasn’t slowed down since.
He gets plenty of help from teammates such as striker Ali Al-Gashamy, a sophomore from Norway who picked up national player of the week honors recently with two goals and two assists in victories against UNC Asheville and Campbell. Freshman goalkeeper Matthew Swan has three straight shutouts and 11 saves in a 1-0 victory Wednesday against Winthrop.
The Bulldogs (9-6-1, 6-3 Big South), who finish their regular season with a home game Saturday against High Point, have won five in a row, the streak coming after Gardner-Webb had gone winless in five consecutive games.
Now, Gardner-Webb joins Longwood and Campbell as the strongest threats to knock off fifth-ranked Coastal Carolina in the Big South tournament which begins Nov. 12.
• Charlotte’s 6-0 men’s win Wednesday at Florida Atlantic was the 49ers’ largest margin of victory since beating George Washington 6-0 on Oct. 9, 2009. The 49ers (7-5-3, 2-3-2 Conference USA) have won three in a row and are host to Marshall on Saturday.
• South Carolina’s 1-0 victory against New Mexico on Oct. 26 was the 450th of Gamecocks coach Mark Berson’s career. Berson, in his 36th season at South Carolina, is the fourth coach to win that many games at one school. The Gamecocks (6-5-5, 3-1-3 C-USA) tied Florida International 0-0 on Wednesday and are at Alabama-Birmingham on Sunday.
• Davidson’s men snapped a five-game losing streak in exciting fashion Tuesday. The Wildcats fell behind Virginia Tech 39 seconds into the game, but rallied to tie on a goal by Chris Pettiglio with 59 seconds left in regulation. Valeriy Sviderskiy got the game-winner in the fifth minute of overtime. The Wildcats (7-9, 1-4 Southern Conference) play their final regular-season game Friday at 7 p.m. against visiting Appalachian State (3-6-6, 1-3-1), with the league tournament beginning next week.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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