ROSEMOUNT – The Clay Panthers have started the 2019 season red hot, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that.
A season opening road win over Fairfield Monday, a shutout win over Chesapeake Thursday in which senior Bryce Toomire tied a state record with nine consecutive goals, and their latest win, an 8-4 come from behind non-league win over West Saturday morning has helped cement the Panthers as a threat in the Southeast district to all their future opponents.
“Our guys played really hard once we settled down,” Clay head coach Doug Ledingham said. “Saturday morning matches are always tough. Once we started moving and got the ball rolling, I thought we looked great. We need to learn to adjust to being called for offside and how the game’s being called. Other than that, I thought our offense did really good.”
“That’s one of the best games we’ve played, as a complete game so far this year,” West head coach Bryan Craft said. “We played three guys whose first soccer game was this morning. I thought we played great, played with fight, and we kept battling.”
One would think that after Thursday’s state record tying performance from Toomire, the all-district senior would take a bit of a step back to reality.
Instead, Toomire scored Clay’s first five goals Saturday, all in the first half (26:00 left in 1H, 15:00 left in 1H, 11:00 left in 1H, 7:00 left in 1H, and 5:00 left in 1H), including four straight to retake the lead after the Panthers held an early 3-1 deficit against the Senators.
West got their scoring started when Caleb Hazelbaker found the net assisted by Tucker Brickey (22:00 left in 1H). Maverick Stone scored back to back goals for West to give the Senators their early 3-1 lead. Both (21:00 left in 1H, 16:00 left in 1H) were assisted by Ethan Maaseck and Hazelbaker respectively. The Senators lone goal of the second half was scored by Hazelbaker off a penalty kick (14:00 left in 2H).
Clay’s second half scoring wouldn’t come from Toomire. Instead, Reece Whitley (26:00 left in 2H), Jacob Eichenlaub (25:30 left in 2H), and Evan Woods (:33 left in 2H) would pick up the Panthers slack to help them win 8-4 over West Saturday afternoon.
“We’re trying to get our goals in there and spread the offense around,” Ledingham said. “We feel like we’re a lot more dangerous if we have four or five guys who can score instead of one or two.”
After a somewhat sluggish start, Ledingham was impressed with how his players, especially on defense, responded to an early deficit to help their team improve to 3-0 in the young season.
“Our defense has been solid. We’ve been able to go with pretty much the same formation, switching people around as needed. I think we started off a little sluggish with the Saturday morning start, but once we got settled down, I thought we looked pretty good back there.”
West will have the first half of the week off before their second SOC game of the season at home against Minford Thursday. After an encouraging performance, Craft hopes his team can continue to grow and progress as the season marches forward.
“We just want to keep fighting,” Craft said. “We’re one of the smaller teams this year. Learning how we’re going to fight through the battles against teams who can put in fresh legs on us. Trying to hang in there every game and give ourselves a chance to win.”
Clay will host Southeastern Tuesday as they hope to improve to 4-0 in 2019. For Ledingham, the important thing for his team to continue their fast start is being able to share the wealth so teams won’t be able to focus on any specific player.
“We want to move the ball around,” Ledingham said. “We want to get away from the kick and run and play more possession. We are getting more through balls now. I think if we keep spreading it around on offense, then it’ll be hard to mark any one guy.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT