By Steve Walentik
Thursday, September 30, 2010
It would have been easy think the Hickman boys soccer team unlucky after a seemingly innocent shot squirted through the hands of goalkeeper Chuck Wilson and trickled across the goal line.
But the match itself was actually more heavily skewed in Rock Bridge’s favor.
“They did everything that they wanted to do tonight,” Kewpies Coach Adam Taylor said. “I thought they played extremely well. … We got beat in every aspect of the game, bottom line. Anyone who watched this game — even if you don’t know much about soccer — could see they just basically beat us, and it started in the middle of the field. They hammered us there early, often and all night.”
Taylor’s coaching counterpart, Kyle Austin, actually thought his Bruins began the night a little shaky, perhaps evidence of some nerves that came with facing their crosstown rivals for the first time since they ended Rock Bridge’s season in last year’s district semifinal. The match wasn’t 12 minutes old when Hickman senior Andy Atkins got loose on the right wing after McDonald misplayed a cross. Senior goalkeeper Brady Wulff charged hard off his line to challenge the upcoming shot, and Atkins fired high over the goal.
That would be the best opportunity the Kewpies (8-3-1) had, as the Bruins (10-4) settled down soon after. They began to possess the ball and mounted one attack after another into Hickman’s end of the field. Only a few produced quality scoring opportunities in the first half, but they kept Taylor’s team on the defensive, and Wilson had to come up with six saves just to keep the match scoreless at intermission.
Rock Bridge kept pressing in the second half. Junior Matt Kelly pounced on the ball after Eric Pekkala gave it away deep in Hickman territory and nearly notched his 15th goal of the season in the 47th minute.
It was about two minutes after Kelly’s chance that McDonald left the field with a bloody nose after catching an inadvertent elbow. With cotton plugging his right nostril, he returned just in time to deliver the biggest strike of the night with 27:59 left on the clock.
Atkins and Ryan Schmidt were battling for a loose ball when the ball rolled back toward McDonald, pinching in from the backline.
“It just found me,” said the junior, who quickly settled it some 30 yards from the goal. “I just decided to take a shot from out — just pepper the goalie. I hit it well. I didn’t hit it in a great spot, but it just found the net.”
First, the ball passed over traffic in front and through the hands Wilson, who seemed to be handcuffed by the spinning orb.
“My assistant coach,” Alex Nichols, “and I have preached to them all season, there’s no such thing as a bad shot,” Austin said. “Things can happen — it takes a deflection, something happens like with Kory’s shot tonight. … It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but I tell them it doesn’t have to be pretty. It still counts on the score sheet the same.”
Rather than awaken Hickman’s attack, McDonald’s goal actually seemed to open up the field so that Rock Bridge could generate even more opportunities.
The Kewpies did manage a few scoring chances of their own while countering the Bruins’ advances over the final 28 minutes, but none really tested Wulff, who never had to leave his feet while making five saves.
Wulff might have preferred some more work, but Austin wasn’t complaining.
“If Brady never gets dirty, it’s a good game for us,” the coach said. “We have a solid keeper. I honestly believe he’s the best keeper here in Mid-Missouri. I tell our defense, ‘Let’s let him just sit back there and read a book.’ On nights like tonight, he was there. He’s a presence back there, but he didn’t have to come up with any huge saves. But there’ll be a point in the season, and we have faith in him that he’s going to make that save.”
Austin would like his Bruins to capitalize on a few more opportunities at the other end so that every save isn’t so important, but Hickman’s backline did a good job withstanding their pressure last night.
“Give credit to our guys. For as well as they played, we kept in it, we fought all night, and we only lost by a goal and goal that really we maybe could have got back somehow,” said Taylor, whose team hadn’t been challenged nearly as much while outscoring its opponents 20-0 during a three-game winning streak. “It’s early in the season still. We’ve still got plenty of time to work, and hopefully, this will put our guys back to work.”