Winning would have been icing on the birthday cake.
South Whidbey head coach Joel Gerlach celebrated his birthday differently than he wanted to on Wednesday when the Falcons lost 1-0 to King’s. After all, who wishes their five-game winning streak would end when they blow out the birthday candles?
Riding high on that winning streak, Gerlach emphasized mental toughness and pride to the Falcons.
“Play with pride,” Gerlach told his team before kickoff. “Let’s keep it going; you’ve won your last five games.”
The Falcons lost in a game dominated by defense.
After a scoreless first half, the Falcons appeared to be fulfilling their coach’s wish.
The back-and-forth play between the Falcons and the Knights created a growing tension as both teams waited for their opportunity to get ahead. Wet and slippery conditions from rain throughout the game added to the drama, and the frustration. Due to the slick surface, both teams had mistakes along the sidelines, with errant passes and poor ball management along the out-of-bounds lines.
Each team lost and retained possession steadily through to the second half. Then the pressure popped in the 58th minute when Trevor Bartell scored King’s only goal. Bartell is fourth among boys soccer scorers, in all school classifications, with 20 goals.
“We were looking to mark [Bartell] because we knew he would be dangerous,” said sophomore defender Cameron Coupe. “And Connor McCauley did really good except for that one play they scored on.”
“It happens, can’t blame him,” Coup added.
Once the Knights scored, the window the Falcons had to tie and take the lead closed.
“It felt pretty slow-paced in comparison to our other games,” said senior midfielder Michael Grimm. “But we did really step it up in the last 15 to 20 minutes. Once they had scored, we really got our game together, so if we could have played like that from the beginning, the outcome might have been different.”
The Falcons could not close in to tie the Knights in the final minutes of the game, ending their winning streak at five.
“Last time, they definitely dominated us,” Grimm said. “This time we were able to stick with them to the last few minutes.”
King’s (11-0-2 in Cascade Conference; 13-0-2 overall), remained tied as the top team in the conference with Archbishop Murphy. South Whidbey (7-0-6 8-0-6 overall) is tied for second place with Sultan among 2A Cascade Conference teams.
After wins against Sultan, Granite Falls, Lakewood, Cedarcrest and Coupeville, some Falcons said they were prepared to face the top team in the conference.
“We wanted to beat them,” Grimm said. “And we definitely felt better going into this game than we would have if we weren’t on the win streak.”
Continuing an already electric season was Falcon senior goalkeeper TJ Russell, who totaled 15 saves.
During the first half, Russell was crowded in the goalkeeper’s box when a King’s player zipped a ball in, only to be deflected by Russell on the ground using his legs.
Coupe said Russell often gives orders to the defenders because of his advantage to view the entire field.
“He just tells us where to be and who to mark up on,” Coupe said.
“He can see the field much better than we can because he has the whole view, while we only have half-forward vision, so he knows who’s going where,” he added.
“I feel like we played pretty evenly, but we didn’t play a lot of offense,” Myatt said. “TJ played really well, but I think we could have won the game.”
With a thinning roster, Gerlach pressed his team to be physical and to be safe.
“Be careful out there, we need everybody we can get today,” Gerlach told James Young during warmups.
He had good reason to advocate caution. Two starting forwards are injured, possibly for the rest of the season.
Junior forward Noah Moeller is out with a concussion and senior forward Miles Goodman is out for the season with a dislocated shoulder.
Both players were injured in the fifth week against Granite Falls and Myatt said their absence affected the team’s offense.
“Our chemistry is different,” Myatt said. “Now, it’s hard for me because it’s three new forwards that I don’t know how to play with.”
Rotating in for the two injured starters were Young (freshman), Stevo Lyons and Jimmy Price (junior).