It was a busy and exciting week in Hornets varsity sports after school resumed following the Labor Day break. The best contest of the week? It had to be the Saline-Skyline varsity boys’ soccer contest.
Last year, Saline bested Skyline twice on the way to the SEC Red championship. But Skyline laughed last, beating Saline in the district final – and then going on to win the state championship Saline had in their sights.
So when Skyline came to Hornet Stadium Thursday, it was a big game. Everyone knew it.
Even though the game was scored without a goal (at least a goal that stood) – the game lived up to its billing.
Coach Ryan Williams said it was a huge game.
“It’s huge because it’s the defending state champions on our home field. They’re our arch rival and they’re always a good, well-coached team,” Williams said. “We stressed before the game to not let the emotions get to big. It is another game, and we still have about 13 left on the schedule. Win or lose this game, we need to get better. And I think we took a huge step forward. I loved how we played. I thought we generated enough chances to win the game and defensively we didn’t give up much. I was really proud of the effort.”
Early in the game, it was Skyline generating the best chances.
Keeper Sam Herner rose to the challenge. He tipped one ball over the net, deflected another point-blank shot wide, and then dove to catch dangerous header on goal.
“I can say enough about Sam. I feel very confident when he’s in net. His reactions are fantastic. He came up big when he needed too,” Williams said.
After the first 15 minutes or so, Saline’s defense did a better job keeping Skyline on the perimeter.
Williams liked the way the team handled Bryce Schaner, one of the top players in the state.
“I thought we did a good job with him and contained him, because he’s a great soccer player,” Williams said.
Williams credited the improved communication between his centerbacks and their increased familiarity. He said outside backs Jason Head and Jaden Pickett have been locking things down.
Skyline still seemed to have more possession time, but the Hornets began generating quality looks.
Eric Kent played a ball across to Brayden Stavros, who made a quick cut and fired a low shot grabbed by the diving Skyline keeper. A short time later, with the Skyline keeper caught wandering too far, Kent fired a long shot over the bar. With 14:11 to play in the half, Anthony Torres wired a low shot on goal stopped by the Skyline keeper.
In the second half, Saline continued to generate the better chances. The Eagles managed the ball well, but the Hornets kept them at bay. When the Hornets broke their possession, they attacked with speed.
“We know how talented Skyline is. They returned a lot of their team from last year and have so many players with technical skill. We knew defensively we had to be disciplined. We tell guys ‘Do your job’ and make sure you are in the spot where you need to be,” Williams said, if his team’s “Bend don’t break” mentality. “We knew on our counterattacks we could get out quickly. We have a lot of speed on the wings and speed up top.”
The Hornets used one of those counters to take a 1-0 lead – or so they thought. Kent streaked up the right wing and center pass through the box. Zeke Gray struck a low shot past the keeper and Saline celebrated the goal. For about 10 seconds.
The official ruled the play offside.
“It’s a really hard call to make because it’s just such a fast game. From my angle, I didn’t think that they were (offside), however, it’s a call. That’s high school soccer. Sometimes you’re going to get calls that go your way. Sometimes you’re not,” Williams said.
The Hornets were stunned by the call. But only momentarily. The Hornets kept breaking the Skyline possession and streaking down the field for prime chances.
“I loved our response. It fired us up a little bit,” Williams said.
Saline kept coming. Jake McCandless just missed getting a head on the ball in front of the goalie. Eli Routt caught up to a great cross and banged it off the side of the net.
Time expired with Brayden Stavros and the Skyline keeper getting tied up and rumbling to the ground after Stavros came charging in after a loose ball seeking the game-winning goal.
In the end, Saline settled for the tie. But it was the kind of early-season effort that Williams’ squad can build on.
Saline 2 Rochester Adams 0
Eric Kent and Jake McCandless scored as Saline beat Rochester Adams 2-0 in a road victory Tuesday. Sam Herner and Ben Sundquist split the shutout.