The Mason County soccer team talked about earning respect after Tuesday’s contest with Pendleton County.
The result may have just done that with a 5-3 victory over the Wildcats.
The Royals ended a 14-game winless streak to Pendleton County, going 0-13-1 in the last 14 meetings against the Wildcats. It’s the program’s first win over the Wildcats since September 23, 2004.
“Looking at our schedule there were two or three main games and this was one of them that we really needed to focus in on and make sure our boys’ were prepared,” Royals coach Daniel Forsythe said. “Losing the game last week due to the weather probably helped us because it gave us time to prepare and get our heads set for a big opponent. Pendleton is a team that’s always earned our respect and this is our year to gain their respect.”
Mason County used stellar play in net from Mario Soto, tallying 12 saves while Brock Gilligan and Nicholas Thomas added two goals apiece as the Royals won their fourth straight game after starting the season 0-3-1.
The Wildcats were the first ones to strike as Cody Sullivan flicked a shot on goal into the net in the 13th minute. The three-time defending 38th District champs seemed to be cruising early on as the Royals didn’t attempt their first shot of the contest until the 16th minute.
But then they started to open up the field with their counter attack. First it was Gilligan putting a low-lining shot in goal in the 19th minute. Eight minutes later, it was Gilligan again as he took a throw-in from Anwar Perry off the bounce and headed it into the net, making it 2-1 Royals in the 27th minute.
“In past years we’d usually get down early and our heads would just drop and we wouldn’t get back in the game. But this year, this team knows if we’re down we got to go get one back, get two or three back and get back on them. We have a quick counter with Jordan (Dunlap), Nic (Thomas) and Parker (Free) up front. Sometimes teams aren’t ready for it,” Gilligan said.
The two would stall from there heading into the half with Mason County up 2-1, keyed by a couple diving saves from Soto.
“Defensively I think we held up. We picked up on the idea that they were trying to play through balls, so we kind of shut that down,” Soto said. “We just played how we usually play and held up.”
Then it was Nicholas Thomas’ turn to join in on the action. The Royals leading goal scorer on the season added his eighth and ninth goals of the year in the 46th and 51st minute to give the Royals a 4-1 lead.
Things would remain that way until the 64th minute when Tyler Volz collected a ball for Pendleton in the box after a couple of deflections and put one in the net to make it 4-2, letting the Royals know the contest wasn’t over yet. They’d threaten again a couple of minutes later as a foul in the box resulted in a penalty kick, but like the majority of the night, Soto was there for a diving save.
“I’ve been practicing a lot on my PKs because I wasn’t good at them at first. It was kind of a guess, I kind of got lucky, but I’ve been working hard at them,” Soto said.
Gavin Cracraft then pushed the lead back out to three as he dribbled nearly half the field and into the box, putting a ball in the lower left corner past the diving Wildcat’s keeper Cody Sullivan in the 69th minute, pretty much sealing the deal.
Pendleton’s Conner Harper, entering the contest tied for third in the state with 22 goals, was held at bay most of the contest until the 73rd minute when he got a breakaway and his second shot after a Soto deflection was able to find the back of the net to make it 5-3.
“I told the boys he is not our main focus. We are not playing Conner, we are playing Pendleton County. Much like last year when we had Bryce (Johnson), one player does not make a team. Once we realized that and didn’t have our heads wrapped around just him and we defended them as a team, if they didn’t have anyone to pass it to him, he doesn’t have any chance to score and that was our gameplan today and I think they executed really well,” Forsythe said.
Things would remain that way until the final horn sounded, putting some more confidence in a Mason County team that has seemed to find their groove at nearly the midway point of the season.
“We’ve got an amazing senior class that leads by example and sets the bar. They show the underclassmen what it takes to have a winning program. I told these boys tonight we’re not a fluke, we are a real deal soccer team. It takes an offensive and defensive core and I think that they are really coming together and working as a team,” Forsythe said.
The win pushes the Royals to 4-3-1 on the year and will look to make it five in a row on Thursday when they travel to Grayson to take on East Carter.
Pendleton County dropped to 4-3-1 as well with the loss and return to action Saturday when they host Montgomery County.
These two will meet again on October 8, that meeting being do-or-die to one another’s seasons in the first round of the 38th District Tournament. That game will be played on Pendleton County’s turf as they are the host of the tournament this year.
ROYALS 5, WILDCATS 3
(PC) Sullivan (13th minute), Volz (64th minute), Harper (73rd minute)
(MC) Gilligan (19th minute), Gilligan (27th minute), Thomas (46th minute), Thomas (51st minute), Cracraft (69th minute)
Shots (on goal): Pendleton 19 (15), Mason 15 (11)
Corner Kicks: Pendleton 7, Mason 1
Saves: Pendelton 6 (Sullivan, Wyatt), Mason 12 (Soto)
Records: Pendleton County 4-3-1, Mason County 4-3-1