Wildcats shut down Redskins
ATHENS — The Athens and Sayre boys’ soccer squads hooked up for the third time this season Tuesday in a game that looked similar to the first two and ended with a similar result as Athens pulled out a 2-0 Northern Tier League East win.
“Defense is something we’ve focused on all season,” said Athens coach Jake Lezak after the shutout win. “We know that we have to keep teams off the board because we know that we’re not a powerful offensive team, but we will possess the ball.”
For his part, Sayre coach Ron Prados felt his team played better than the final score would indicate.
“It’s a shame, because I don’t think we played as badly as a 2-0 score,” said Prados. “We had a chance to tie and we had a chance to go ahead, but neither ball went in the net. That’s soccer.
“But I’m proud of the kids. They made districts with all of the injuries we had.”
The host Wildcats came out of the gate with a lot of energy and took the game to the Redskins. Sayre had some worthy runs, but the ball stayed primarily in the midfield or in Athens’ offensive zone.
Still, the Redskins’ defense stayed strong, refusing to wilt in the face of constant pressure. Sayre keeper Riley Card came up big a couple of times in the first half, stealing goals from the Wildcats at the 36:13 mark and again at the 31:55 mark on strong shots from fairly close range. He also got a bit of help from his defense, as Tyler Williams doubled back to poke away a ball headed toward the net when Card was out of the net.
Sayre had a more coordinated effort during the middle of the period, increasing the frequency of its forays into the offensive zone, but the Wildcats’ defense was on point as well, keeping goalie TJ Glisson from being tested throughout the 40-minute half. Sayre was credited with two shots on goal, but neither was struck well.
The Wildcats, deeper on the bench than the Redskins, began to win the battle in the middle of the field again at the half wound down and the increased offensive pressure finally paid off. With 9:50 to play in the half, Nick Pane took a short pass from the left side of the offense from Jake Townsand and carried right across the goal before stopping and sending a shot into the bottom-middle part of the goal.
The Redskins thought they had a chance late in the half when an Athens player, in an attempt to clear the ball from in front of the goal, kicked the ball across the field and out past the end line, but Athens was awarded a goal kick instead.
Down 1-0 to start the second half, the Redskins nearly went down 2-0 in the opening minutes of the second half, but Card stepped up and punched a shot over the goal with 37:28 to play.
From there, the Redskins took the game to the Wildcats early for a time, ramping up the pressure in an attempt to tie the match. The Redskins had several opportunities, but the Wildcats’defense refused to yield, turning away the Redskins repeatedly.
The contest went more end line to end line as the match continued and each goalie came up big at one point or another. Card again got some help from a defender at the 24:58 mark, when Alex Murrelle got to a ball that would certainly have ended up in the back of the net without his efforts, as Card’s attempt to play the ball out in front was unsuccessful.
The Redskins’ best shot of the night came with 6:30 remaining, but Glisson leapt and got just enough of a Sayre rocket to tip it up and off the crossbar.
Each team had a corner kick over the next two minutes, then Athens got the insurance goal it needed when, with 4:21 to play, Zach Mikaya, crashing the net for just such an opportunity, found the rebound of a Brooks Johnson shot and, with Card and Johnson both on the ground, popped the ball into the upper, right side of the net.
“We went back to training after Thursday and we knew that there were many things we weren’t doingtogether,” said Lezak. “Players were standing alone on the field, trying to get things done on their own and we realized that.
“We went back to using a full-team game — pass and move, pass and move — and that’s what we’re going to continue to focus on.”
For the game, Athens, which finished with three corner kicks, put 13 shots on goal with Sayre’s Card recording nine saves. Sayre, which had two corner kicks, had a number of shots high or wide and was credited with five shots on goal. Glisson had four saves.
Athens improves to 12-2-2 and will play at Northeast Bradford at 4 p.m. on Thursday before finishing its regular 2011 season on Saturday with a trip to Elk Lake.
Sayre, 9-6-2 overall and 8-6-2 in NTL play, will visit Northeast Bradford at 4 p.m. on Friday in its final regular-season contest.
JV: Sayre won the JV game, 2-1.