Short-staffed Falcon boys soccer stalled by Red Wolves

Falcon sophomore forward James Young fights through Red Wolves sophomore forward Damian Pendergraft as Falcon sophomore defender Calvin Shimada positions himself for the loose ball.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcon sophomore forward James Young fights through Red Wolves sophomore forward Damian Pendergraft as Falcon sophomore defender Calvin Shimada positions himself for the loose ball.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

DUVALL — Cedarcrest had too many quality possessions and pressured South Whidbey’s defense too often for the short-staffed Falcons to hold off the Red Wolves in a 1-0 loss Tuesday night.

“We’re on spring break, I’m missing three starters and I think it showed today,” said Falcon head coach Joel Gerlach.

“We knew Cedarcrest was going to be tough. The adjustments we’ve had to make, we’re playing guys at positions they’re not normally used to playing.”

The Red Wolves attempted more than 15 shots on the patched together Falcon defense. They only needed one, however, as the Red Wolves midfielders controlled their home turf. They surrounded the Falcons (3-2 Cascade Conference, 4-2 overall) anytime a ball came near and contained the Falcons’ leading scorer Noah Moeller.

“We put pressure on them, but I don’t think we created great chances,” said Red Wolves head coach Zack Pittis.

“They did a good job of bending but not breaking. We just weren’t able to penetrate that final 25, 30 yards.”

South Whidbey was playing without three starters, including senior goalkeeper Garret Thomson, while the school was on spring break. In Thomson’s place, junior Andrew Holt protected the net and held the Red Wolves, a squad filled with fast, effective passers, to a scoreless first half.

“I was extremely nervous,” Holt said. “I was pretty much shaking the entire first half.”

The Red Wolves (3-2 Cascade Conference, 3-3 overall) controlled the ball much of the opening half. Through the first 40 minutes, they had 11 shots on goal. Holt saved nine of the goal attempts, including a dive to stop Red Wolf junior mid Conner Viger’s roller from the left corner of the goalie’s box.

“Man of the match right there. It could have easily been three, four to nothing,” Gerlach said of Holt. “Considering he’s one of my starting right mids, I thought he played fantastic today.”

South Whidbey took three shots in the first half. The first was by junior forward Stephen Lyons, which missed the right post from 15 yards out. Cedarcrest’s defense swarmed the ball, collapsing on the Falcon dribblers and forcing long, ambling kicks or turnovers.

“They just controlled the ball in the middle and pretty much just played keep away with us,” said Moeller, a senior forward.

“They’ve always had a good touch. They just worked the give-and-gos all day.”

Finally, in the 45th minute, the Red Wolves got the ball by Holt. At 6 feet, 4 inches, Holt was able to lunge, jump and extend his arms and legs to cover much of the net. The most difficult shot for him to stop was one of the simpler kicks — a grounder. Red Wolf sophomore forward Darian Pendergraft booted in the roller from within the 15-yard marker Holt lunged to his right.

“I’m pretty tall, so the hardest shot for me is down (to the ground),” Holt said.

“That was really tough for me.”

It had been almost three years since Holt had been the last line of defense in a competitive soccer match. His rotation from the midfield to the goal box affected other positions, such as junior midfielder Connor McCauley’s move to the defense. South Whidbey played with only two substitutes, and around the 60th minute sophomore defender Calvin Shimada was sidelined after injuring his ankle. The depleted personnel forced most of the Falcons to play the entire 80 minutes. 

“At the end of the game, I could tell it was affecting us a lot that we didn’t have those extra subs or those fresh legs,” Holt said. “You could just see it out there that people weren’t going as hard as they could.”

South Whidbey attempted to play the ball on the sides instead of in the middle in the second half. It was to little avail as the Red Wolves continued to swarm the ball and force quick decisions by the Falcons.

“That was a very good team,” Gerlach said. “They were really disciplined and they have a lot of high skill players.”

The loss Tuesday was the second in a row for the Falcons, who before March 30 were undefeated and scored 12 goals in conference matches. Against Coupeville in the prior game, South Whidbey lost 1-0 in a shootout that was decided by a missed seventh kick. The second loss in a row had some of the Falcons worried as the schedule approaches the mid-season.

“To be honest, I’m worried. This was our make-or-break point,” Holt said. “We were on a roll after Lakewood, and then after Coupeville we’re like, ‘Well we can still do it.’ This was an important game.”

“We’ve just got to come back hard. It’s really tough on spring break not having some people.”

South Whidbey hosted second-place King’s (4-1 Cascade Conference, 4-3 overall) on Friday. The week following pits South Whidbey against the league’s first place and only undefeated squad in Archbishop Murphy (5-0 Cascade Conference, 6-0 overall) in the first of three games in five days.

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