By Matt Myers
Late-match heroics have been the forte of the Jr. Cyclones’ soccer squad this season, and Tuesday night it was Drew Blackwell wearing the cape late.
In the midst of a late-game striking foray that saw a plethora of Cyclone strikers hovering within inches of the net, Blackwell drove a Chris Schaff rebound into the nylon to set T.A. Dugger in front by a goal with just under three minutes remaining. The ultimate result was a resolute 2-1 victory over the University School Jr. Bucs, and a bit more orange and black momentum heading into a season-ending showdown with Science Hill.
The win was a complete microcosm of a year that has seen coach Michelle Butler’s TAD squad (5-3-1) performing at their best when the late game pressure is on. Week in and week out the Jr. Cyclones have relied on sound play in the clutch to garner themselves a solid winning season. It is this characteristic of her young squad that Coach Butler hopes to both embrace and improve upon in the season finale, as well as in future seasons.
“I was very happy with how we responded after UH tied the game,” Butler said. “We have responded well to pressure situations like that all year, and I am so proud of this team because of that. I am just striving to get the guys playing at a high level early, because I know that they are capable of that high level of play. It is something that we will work to improve on in our last game, as well as something we will work on in the future of our program.”
When asked specifically about areas in which the Jr. Cyclones can improve heading into the season finale with Science Hill tonight, Butler commented:
“We want to really play as a team and communicate well. We have been improving with our communication, but it is definitely something we need more of tomorrow night.”
The first half of Tuesday’s match was characterized by the Jr. Cyclones’ ability to offensively penetrate, as well as their ability to take advantage of University mistakes en route to scoring. One of those aforementioned mistakes, a Jr. Buc handball inside the box just under the 16:00 mark, led to the Jr. Cyclones’ first tally of the evening. Ben Marshall handled the PK duties, and the youngster drove a laser by the Jr. Buccaneer goalkeeper to set the score at 1-0.
Although the scoreboard would remain frozen at that tally for the remainder of the first half, the Jr. Cyclones remained decidedly offensive throughout the opening stanza. Multiple strikes by Schaff, Blackwell, and Hunter Vines either ended in near misses, or fell victim to the evening’s questionable officiating.
The Jr. Bucs equalizer came with 9:36 showing on the second half clock, and from that point on the game became another furious offensive display for the Jr. Cyclones. Continuous strikes from Marshall, Vines, and Schaff resulted in a tired and spread out University School defense.
With just under three minutes to go, the Jr. Cyclones exploited that fatigue with a push into the box that saw Blackwell able to get a look at a completely open goal when Schaff’s ricochet shot into his strike line. The result was a 2-1 lead that the Jr. Cyclones would not relinquish.
In a season of late game charges, the Jr. Cyclones’ performance Tuesday night might have been their most infamous.