Tiger Cubs come back from halftime deficit, beat Cougars 2-1
ROACHDALE -- The North Putnam boys' soccer team had a cross in front of the net in the final 30 seconds with a chance to tie the game against visiting Greencastle on Thursday, but as the ball trickled through the Tiger Cubs' defense and across the net, it became apparent there weren't any Cougars in position to direct the ball in.
The missed chance left NPHS just short in the 2-1 Greencastle win.
"I would have liked to see a little more goal production because I thought we were better than the 2-1 matchup," GHS coach Dave Lilly said. "You can't be disappointed with a win."
The Tiger Cubs had an advantage in experience that helped them read angles and get to better positions on the field, but the Cougars made up for it with aggression.
NPHS had five early shots, but no sustained offensive attacks, to start the first half. GHS started to control the ball and pressure the Cougars' keeper, Bailey Allen, but the sophomore was up to the challenge. He had four saves in succession, including a diving stop on an attack from GHS sophomore Zach Wilkerson in the 23rd minute.
Allen made the save, but stayed prone on the field. He entered the game battling an injured hip and appeared to aggravate it on the fall. With their top keeper removed, NPHS inserted sophomore Jake Holtze in net.
Holtze got thrown into action quickly as the Tiger Cubs had a pair of shots in the next few minutes, but he and the defenders kept GHS from any solid chances.
Senior Nick Kaufman, an athletic, confident defender, constantly jumped into lanes, beat the Tiger Cubs to loose balls and got important clears.
Kaufman had started at keeper in previous games with Allen out, but his presence on defense was too important for the Cougars to lose, NPHS coach Dave Moeller said.
"(Kaufman) is such a strong presence to have back there on the defense I didn't want to move him back into goal and lose him there," Moeller said. "He did a great job of winning balls on the back and shutting down some of their key players."
With the Tiger Cubs holding the momentum, senior Bennett Hazelgrove took a pass from sophomore Parker Coffman, streaked down the field and scored a goal before GHS had a chance to look up and see what hit it at 11:38 in the half.
The 1-0 score held until halftime.
"They beat us to a lot of 50-50 balls and they had guys that just were physically outworking us," Lilly said. "We were still confident with 40 minutes to play. ... I thought we would separate better than letting them have the lead and having to play close, but I still was comfortable that we'd grind them down and we'd find a way to get back on top."
The Tiger Cubs opened the second half with a change in net. Senior Zane Miller moved up to midfield, giving GHS speed and a strong leg, and junior Alex Briones dropped back into net.
Lilly said he hoped Miller's presence could help make up for a few players who missed the game with injuries.
"Zane had fresh legs and he's fast, so we were hoping to spring him," Lilly said. "Zane's got some pretty good speed and he can finish."
Miller took the majority of the Tiger Cubs' free kicks during the second half.
In his first game of the season, senior Tanner Dean developed a chemistry with sophomore Justin Hartman that led to both the Tiger Cubs' goals.
The first came at 38:03 when Dean launched a pass from 35 yards out to Hartman in front of the net.
Dean had another assist to Hartman at 32:06 for the deciding goal.
The back-to-back goals came during the only stretch Moeller felt his team was outplayed.
"We had a lapse there at the beginning of the second half," he said. "Except for that 10-minute period I thought we played really well. It's probably the best game we've had this season."
North Putnam had it's best chance to level the score on back-to-back corner kicks at the 8:30 mark but the Cougars' three shots were all blocked before reaching the keeper.
For the Cougars, the close match helped the team prove they're improving. With a little more confidence, their scoring will come around, Moeller said.
"We got the first goal, which I thought was important," he said. "With it being a county game, we were definitely ready to play. It's a game we look forward to on our schedule. ... I thought we played well enough to win.
"We created a lot of opportunities and we were just unlucky not to convert them."
The win for Greencastle was nice, Lilly said, but the team is still a few steps from becoming the team he hopes they will.
"If we get everybody healthy and here at one time I think we're going to be a lot better than what we've been showing," he said. "We still don't have that real striker mentality. Isaiah (Long) showed a little bit of it late, where you just will not be denied the ball.
"You go hard and you scrum and you win the ball and finish. We haven't had that. We've been tentative up top. We need somebody to develop that reckless-abandon, fearless, I'm-going-to-go-win-balls-and-finish (mentality) like we've had in years past, and we'll get some more goals that way."
GHS will have a chance to secure the West Central Conference championship in its next match. Greencastle hosts Cascade on Saturday at noon.
North Putnam plays Saturday at Covington at 11 a.m.
At North Putnam
Greencastle...............0 2 -- 2
North Putnam............1 0 -- 1
NP 11:38 -- Hazelgrove (Coffman), 0-1
GC 38:08 -- Hartman (Dean), 1-1
GC 32:06 -- Hartman (Dean), 2-1
Shots-on goal: GC 22-13; NP 15-10