NEW BOSTON — Games that are well-played and feature great sportsmanship in them are always thrilling contests to behold.
On Tuesday evening, that mantra proved to be no different in a tightly contested SOC I matchup between the New Boston Tigers and the Clay Panthers, as both units showed the fans in attendance the best of both worlds.
While the first half showcased two excellent efforts in goal from Clay’s Dakota Dodds and New Boston’s Kyle Sexton, the second half proved to be about the talented offensive units that both teams put on the field.
Ultimately, however, Bryce Toomire’s 49th minute goal for the Panthers, however, was answered with a pair of significant blasts from Tyler Caldwell and Kyle McQuithy in the 63rd and 75th minute as New Boston used the aforementioned blasts to take home a 2-1 victory on its home turf and even the race for second with Clay in the SOC I standings on Tuesday evening at Municipal Stadium in New Boston.
For Greg Mauk, the effort of his guys to come from behind showed tremendous wherewithal — as well as another step in the right direction.
“We never gave up,” Mauk said. “That’s the most important thing. I actually felt like we played better after we got down. It seemed like when we got down, we became more aggressive and played with the aggressiveness that I hoped that we would come out with at the beginning of the game. When our leadership gets excited and plays with that type of intensity, effort, and unselfishness, it rubs off on the whole team, and when we’ve got those four producing as our main offensive threats, it just spreads throughout our whole team.”
While the loss certainly was a disappointing result to take for Doug Ledingham’s crew, the first-year Clay head coach — who had led the Panthers to six wins in its last eight affairs — knew that the contest could’ve gone either way, as evidenced by a 1-0 Clay victory in Rosemount back on Sept. 7.
“We knew that it would be tight with New Boston,” Ledingham said. “It always is. We figured that one goal would decide it, either one way or the other. We always play each other well, and the records just go out the window. We’re down two starting strikers right now, and we lost them over the past week with injuries during practice, so it’s been tough.”
Over the first 40 minutes of play, the efforts of Dodds and Sexton in goal proved to be the most impressive qualities that each team brought to the table in the opening half of play. Despite facing constant attacks through most of the first half, Dodds — a sophomore who collected more than 30 saves against Northwest in Clay’s season-opener — intercepted five New Boston corner kicks to eliminate the Tigers from even getting a shot away on each attempt.
“Dakota’s carried us this year,” Ledingham said. “He’s put us on his back. I hope that he is named as the SOC I Defensive Player of the Year. We’ll see how it goes.”
As for Sexton, the freshman — who showed off impressive agility throughout the evening — put together a strong first half as well. To punctuate his opening-half efforts off, Sexton made a spectacular save by immediately diving to his left to stop a Toomire penalty kick with 33.8 seconds to play in the first half after the latter was fouled in the box.
“Kyle Sexton has been a great addition for us this year at the goalie position,” Mauk said. “I told Kyle that if he continues to work as he has been for us in practice, he’s going to end up winning a lot of games for us because he’s going to end up stopping balls that he shouldn’t stop. On that PK, he shouldn’t have stopped that ball, but he did, and that just goes to show the hard work that he’s put together in practice. It’s paid off.”
However, in the second half, Toomire and Marco Valle put together several excellent runs straight at the New Boston defense. Toomire, a sophomore midfielder, eventually capitalized in the 49th minute after a dazzling display where the junior beat two Tigers down the near side, zoomed to the far side en route to beating three additional New Boston defenders, and moved back toward the middle of the box to pound a beauty of a ball home on the far side of the net that gave Clay a 1-0 advantage with 31 minutes to go.
But while Clay was able to take the lead, the Panthers weren’t able to extend the margin. Over the next 10 minutes of play, Toomire and Valle combined for three shots on goal by themselves. However, neither were able to extend the lead out to a comfortable cushion.
“The offensive attack was too much on the shoulders of two guys,” Ledingham said. “They took the whole offensive load. It’s just tough. We knew that it was going to be hard-fought. It was a good, clean game. I know a lot of the New Boston players. I have coached a couple of them in junior high and coached against many of them for years. They’re really good kids. They’ve got a good team, and Greg’s a good coach.”
With the game still very much hanging in the balance, New Boston was able to create offensive chances that would ultimately pay dividends in the final result. After shot attempts in back-to-back minutes from Kade Conley and Malachi Potts fell short of their ultimate destination, Caldwell fired from 10 yards away in the 63rd minute that sailed past the rock-solid Dodds in front as New Boston tied the score at 1-1.
If Clay, however, was shook up by the goal, the Panthers certainly didn’t show any signs of it. Another spectacular save by Dodds in the 68th minute was followed by a boot by Valle that sailed just two feet too high of the goal. Toomire’s final attempt at paydirt, which came just four minutes later, was even closer than that.
Behind another excellent array of moves, the sophomore was able to launch a shot that beat Sexton in the 73rd minute. The shot, however, did not beat the top of the crossbar, which sent the shot back to the ground with authority as Toomire’s shot missed clearing the bar by mere inches.
In the ensuing scramble to score the game-deciding goal, New Boston ultimately obtained possession, and two minutes later, Caldwell, who moved toward the right side of the box again, found McQuithy in front. With Dodds out of position to make the save, the latter didn’t waste the opportunity and jammed a shot straight into the back of the net in the 75th minute for what proved to be the game’s final goal.
“Kade, Kyle, Malachi, and Tyler moved the ball great in the second half,” Mauk said. “I told them after the game, ‘Gosh, if we move the ball like that every game, we’re going to put a lot more shots in the back of the net.’ The way that the ball was moved just showed a great deal of unselfishness from our guys. The more unselfish that we play, the more successful that we are, and that showed (on Tuesday evening).”
With the victory, New Boston gathered a much-needed boost heading into the season’s homestretch, which includes a Thursday evening tilt with Chesapeake at 6 p.m.
“I truly believe that even with the ups and the downs that we’ve had this season, we can compete with anybody in the SOC,” Mauk said. “Is that to say that we’re going to beat everybody we play? Probably not. However, we can compete, no doubt. I just want the guys to believe that. From what I’ve seen, they’re starting to believe that they really can compete with anybody.”
As for Ledingham, Clay, who still holds a respectable 6-7 mark and a 2-3 record in SOC I play following the loss, will look to show its improvement against South Webster when the Panthers travel to play the Jeeps at 5:30 p.m. in another SOC I affair.
“I can handle that record,” Ledingham said. “That’s better than a lot of people expected us to do as such a young team. It’s tough to be that close and not be able to close it out, but I’m proud of the kids. I’m proud of them. I’m really hard on them, but it’s simply because I expect a lot. I expect more than a lot of people give them credit for.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7