Tiger Soccer Falls to Ballard
Wednesday evening, Saint Xavier Soccer faced the Ballard Bruins, a second opponent in two days. The Tigers fought hard but couldn’t pull out the win, as they once again lost 1-0 in another tight regular season game flush with intensity. After a tough loss against Male Tuesday night, St. X looked to build off of positive plays in the previous district matchup, but could not muster enough offense to win.
Contrary to previous games, the Tigers came out playing sharp from the onset of the game. Accurate passes and a stout defensive effort early on contributed to several scoring oportunites. Early on in the match, Ballard forced an offensive fast break, but Senior George McCracken slid in to poke the ball out of play and smothered a big scoring chance for the Bruins. Moments later in the 17th minute, Clay Brown fired a shot from up above the goalie box. The shot was blocked, but the quality, early shot was an encouraging sign with the recent slow starts the team has had to endure.
The offense got a shot of adrenaline with that sequence.
The ball passed through Ballard’s defensive zone untouched multiple times in the first half. In the 22nd minute, senior midfielder and captain Andrew Schaefer found himself with the ball right in front of the Bruin goalkeeper. Schaefer had a hard time handling the ball, though, and his shot attempt came off weak. The Ballard goalie got a hand on the ball just in time, and the game remained scoreless.
In the 38th minute, The Tigers had a communication breakdown defensively, and Ballard was able to capitalize, making the score 1-0 heading into half time. Just like the night before, the one mistake St. X made came back to haunt them.
A second half team to this point in the season, St. X continued its strong play in the second frame against the Bruins. Neither side was able to grasp control of the second half, however. A sudden surge led by Schaefer in the 42nd minute gave the Tigers one of their best scoring opportunities of the night. He pushed the ball up field, drawing the attention of the defense, and then crossed the ball into the box to a wide open Trent Stigler. The junior midfielder struck the ball well with his head, but the ball was directed just wide of the goal.
In the 45th minute, Senior Goalie Alex Popovich made one of the best string of plays of the night, as he fended away two consecutive point-blank shots on goal. Seconds later, Popovich charged out of the box to stop a Ballard fast break, keeping the score and the Tiger’s hopes intact.
After Popovich’s clutch saves, the Tigers began to ramp up the tempo and move the ball with much more urgency. They made a flurry of trips to the Bruins box, but they were denied each time by senior Ballard goalie Zach Brooks. St. X was not able to create any more legitimate scoring chances in the final minutes of play. As the final whistle blew, St. X trailed 1-0, giving them their fourth consecutive loss.
The Tigers were visibly disgusted after the loss; the post-game team huddle was laced with drooping heads and tears of frustration and disappointment.
Saint Xavier Soccer is an elite program, both in the state of Kentucky and America. Four straight defeats is a lot to swallow for a group of players who are accustomed to playing state-championship level soccer all day, every day. Head Coach Andy Schulten made a statement to the team after the game.
“We’ve got to translate this anger into good practice and execution on the field,” Coach Schulten said with tangible encouragement. “The worst thing we can do is add stress to the mental block we’re experiencing right now. This is nothing we can’t overcome with grit and determination.”
St. X could not be more well-equipped to handle this bout with adversity. With Schulten at the helm, things will start to head in the right direction soon enough. He said he has yet to see “a full 80 minutes from any 11 guys this season.”
“We’re bringing it together,” said senior defenseman George McCracken. “We’re getting better. The defense was solid; we just need to hold the ball up top.”
McCracken did not seem phased by the current slide either, saying, “We’ll be fine. Our biggest weakness is ourselves: What we think, what we do, and our mental capacity. We just need to pick ourselves up instead of putting ourselves down.”
“After each loss, we need to get mad. After each win, we need to get better,” McCracken explained with an emphatic calmness.
Currently, the Tigers have played four consecutive games without putting a ball in the net, and their scoring drought will hit 15 days before St. X will get a shot at snapping the streak.
This coming weekend, the Tigers will make the long drive to Bowling Green to take on the Greenwood High School Gators with hopes of reclaiming the St. X pride and swagger that seems to be missing. Game time is scheduled for 1:45 PM.