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Rough week for boys soccer: three losses, to tough competition

Posted 10/1/19
The Blue Raiders boys soccer team entered the week against the hardest stretch of competition it has faced this season. The results weren’t in Middletown’s favor: a 3-0 loss to Bishop …

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Rough week for boys soccer: three losses, to tough competition

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The Blue Raiders boys soccer team entered the week against the hardest stretch of competition it has faced this season.

The results weren’t in Middletown’s favor: a 3-0 loss to Bishop McDevitt, a 2-1 loss to West Perry and a 2-0 loss to Pequea Valley. They stand at 2-10 on the season. Those three opponents are 29-4-1 combined.

“Not a schedule conducive to breaking out of a slump, but our guys haven’t backed down from anyone,” said coach Brian Keyser. “If you watch what we are doing on the field, you wouldn't guess that we are 2-10. The quality of our play is good, but we just haven't been able to make the big play at the necessary time.”

“I love the way our guys stick together and continue to improve,” he added. “We feel like something good is going to happen very soon.”

They were back in action Tuesday at Camp Hill (6-4-2) before traveling to Milton Hershey (2-11) on Thursday, then to Boiling Springs (6-4) on Saturday before returning home to play host to Susquehanna Township on Oct. 8.

Bishop McDevitt 3, Middletown 0

The first contest was against the first-place Crusaders of Bishop McDevitt on Tuesday.

On the Crusaders home turf, Bishop McDevitt was able to control the pace of the game by their speed of play and constant pressure on the ball.

The first chance of the game fell the Crusaders’ way with junior Leo Posavec finding space wide. Posavec was able to create space with the speed on his dribble and take a hard angle shot on frame. Caleb Springer was up for the challenge and easily handled the curling ball directed toward goal.

The Crusaders broke onto the scoreboard in the 16th minute when Jett Hallock was able to rocket past the Raiders’ wingback and make a nice move toward goal. Springer did well to step out to cut down the shooting windows for Hallock, but Hallock remained composed and passed up the shot for a quick touch to dribble around Springer and direct the ball towards the open net for a 1-0 game.

The Crusaders nearly doubled their lead moments later when a Raider foul in the box led to a penalty shot taken by Garrett Hughes. Hughes stuck the kick center of the goal, where Springer chose correctly to remain standing, thus making an impressive foot save and keeping the Raiders in the game.

However, minutes later, the relentless pursuit proved fruitful for Bishop McDevitt. This time after pressure in the offensive third of the field the ball was cleared outside the box. The Crusader midfielder, Nick Hamilton, was first to the ball in space to strike a well-placed ball in the corner of the net for the second goal of the contest.

In the second half, the Raiders began to generate scoring chances. The first came from combination play in the middle half of the field. After several quick passes, Dagan Hughes was able to gain a step on his marker off the dribble and generate a nice shot on goal.

The Raiders continued to press and found some space out wide. A Raider tight angle shot could not be cleanly handled and was pursed by Gary Mensah, who was left open crashing far post. However, the ball came harmlessly off the Crusader keeper.

The open play continued, this time favoring the Crusaders. Once again, Posavec proved to be trouble for the Raiders as he was able to get beyond the Raider defense and side-step Springer in net. This time the shot directed toward the vacated goal was denied by Levi Ettu.

Ettu’s effort to track back was rewarded as he was able to clear the ball with his feet just before it could roll across the goal line.

The Raiders responded with a great chance of their own when Hughes found Mensah out wide. Mensah played a nice cross to Joey Spear out wide in stride. Spear’s one-timer was not enough to beat Corey Kalinoski diving to his left.

The Crusaders added one more to their tally. Posavec once again caused troubles for the Raiders’ defense with his speed. This time the Crusader striker buried his shot after getting behind the defensive line on a counter attack to make it 3-0.

The Raiders did generate one more scoring chance when Gavin Guckavan was able to collect the nice cross from the far side of the field and direct the ball on frame a few yards out. Kalinoski was well positioned to receive the shot and preserved the Crusader shutout.

West Perry 2, Middletown 1

The Raiders returned to action on Thursday against West Perry.

The Mustangs were strong from the start, but the Raiders countered by playing a well-organized team-oriented defense.

The compact formation and hustle to the ball allowed the Raiders to double-team Mustang strikers. Defensive efforts of Jaron Imler, Johnny Jumper, Levi Ettu and Joe Cuneo were strong throughout the game, and the defensive tracking of Raider midfielders prevented the Mustangs from gaining any numbers forward.

This strategy worked well and prevented the high-percentage shots from West Perry. It took a combination of quality footwork and a bit of misfortune to finally break down the Raider defense.

The goal came when Chase Rudy was able to get wide and beat the defensive backline. Rudy was able to work the end line and perfectly place a cross to the onrushing Mustang striker that forced Springer to make a spectacular reaction save.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, the ball caromed far post where Grant Bolze followed the play for the easy header to make it 1-0.

The Raiders responded with a goal of their own when Billy Cleland found Mensah centrally. The ball was disposed but won back with the efforts of Garrett Miller. Miller took a few touches and blistered a frozen rope shot just under the crossbar from more than 30 yards out for the game equalizer.

The second half began with both teams trading equal time in the middle third of the field with neither team able to generate any meaningful possession.

Ten minutes into the second half, the tide began to shift in favor of the Mustangs. They achieved this by holding deeper possession resulting in several scoring chances, the first after a sequence of three consecutive corner kicks. The last corner found Rudy unmarked standing far post. However, his shot went just wide from less than 8 yards out.

The Mustangs eventually got the game winner, coming from a foul in the box. The penalty kick was awarded and taken by Dante Beddia, who buried the shot into the back of the net.

The Mustangs also had two more great chances to add to the lead. The first came when Bolze shot from distance and Springer back-pedaled to just get a fingertip save and the shot hit crossbar. The last, late in the game, came when Rudy once again lost his mark and was left alone in the center of the field for the one-on-one with Springer. Rudy, however, shot high, harmlessly sailing over the crossbar.

“I feel bad for our guys. Played well enough to win, but couldn't get a break or a call when we needed it. We deserved a result in this one,” Keyser said.

Pequea Valley 2, Middletown 0

The Blue Raiders finished the week against a very talented Pequea Valley team. Despite the disparity in records of the two teams, the game was evenly matched.

The first goal of the contest came in favor of Pequea Valley. After a defensive turnover, Ryan Stoltzfus took the ball out wide and made a terrific cross to teammate Dylan Ratjavong in stride. The one-timer was well placed and struck with pace to beat Springer.

Miller, receiving the ball from Hughes, nearly equalized with a strike that caused the Pequea Valley goalie to dive left. Shortly afterward, Ratjavong once again found room to strike, this time from distance which Springer easily handled.

The visiting Indians nearly doubled their lead entering halftime, when Johan Gomez-Mendez jumped the goal kick and struck the ball wide and high of goal. The Raiders once again responded, by playing connected. The series of one- and two-touch passes was able to beat the speed of Pequea Valley and generate several shots for the Raiders — the last by Aiden Shaffer, who nearly scored if not for the partial block of the Pequea Valley defensive back.

The second half was very even. Both teams played well at the midfield and limited their opponents to low-percentage chances. The last goal came late in the game from combination play that began out on the wing. The play  created space centrally for Pequea Valley striker Mason Shumker, who made a well-timed run and directed a low cross toward goal 2 yards out for an easy score.

“It was a great effort against one of the best teams in the district. We were down several starters, and we still held a team that averages five goals a game to a single goal until very late in the game,” Keyser said. “We had some good chances, but we just couldn’t find a way to hit the back of the net. I doubt they were expecting the battle that they got from us, but that just speaks to the fight this group continues to show.”