By Pete Chiodo
Just over three minutes into Monday’s Region 1 match against West Middlesex, the Conneaut boys soccer team found itself leading its opponent for the first time this season.
One could even hear the delighted surprise on the Eagles’ bench as one of the players yelled, “Hey, we’re in the lead!”
It had been that kind of start for the Conneaut boys. But now the Eagles are in the win column, thanks to yesterday’s 3-0 win over the Big Reds. And that’s quite a weight off the shoulders.
“(West Middlesex) was 0-4 coming in and we were 0-5,” said Conneaut head coach Robert Blake. “Basically we needed this game. We needed to get a win. I don’t care who it was, we needed to get a win. Hopefully that will give us a little confidence.”
Mark McLean was responsible for giving the Eagles that early lead. His teammate, Brandon Mora, received a nice long pass down the left sideline, stopped it in the corner and centered it perfectly to McLean in front of the Big Reds’ net.
McLean’s next move was obvious.
“Just the left foot, right into the side,” he said.
Even though Conneaut wouldn’t get back into the Big Reds’ net during the rest of the first half, the team still controlled the action throughout.
“We all worked together pretty well out there,” said McLean. “I was impressed with how we handled the ball in the middle of the field.”
With about 15 minutes to play in the half, Reds goalkeeper Isaiah Harris made two clutch saves, first on a direct kick that nearly squeezed inside the post, and then on a point-blank header by Cody Zinz during a corner kick.
Those stops left the score at 1-0. It was still too early for Conneaut to get comfortable.
“The one thing that I talked to them about at halftime was that as dominating as we were the score was still 1-0,” said Blake. “That leaves the door open. The officials can have an impact in the game. You’re in the box and they call a penalty kick on you and then you’re in trouble. And even at the end of this game, (West Middlesex) sent in a ball from the flank and it went right over the goal. If you’re only up by a goal, those kind of things, and I’ve seen it happen too many times, they wind up in the wrong place.”
It wasn’t until there was about 29 minutes left in the second half that the Eagles were allowed to exhale. Tyler Bone gave Conneaut the insurance goal it was looking for when he nailed the crossbar with a 20-foot shot and the ball ricocheted just past the goal line for the tally. Tanner Dittrich had the assist.
“It was nice to get that second and add the third,” said Blake.
About 10 minutes later, McLean added to the lead with his second goal of the game. After a corner kick, the ball was being batted back and forth in the penalty zone and eventually it teed itself up for the Eagles senior.
“I saw the ball coming through everybody. It looked like it was coming right through me teammate’s legs,” said McLean. “I just shot it.”
In all, Conneaut managed 26 shots, about half of which were on goal.
Conneaut’s split-duty goalkeepers Branden Haylett and Chase Kean had a slow day in net. Neither one needed to record a save for the shutout victory.
“All in all I’m happy with our performance,” said Blake. “I thought they were pretty goals, goals that were scored by tactical play. That’s what I’m looking for. And we’re coming off a thrashing we had at the hands of Meadville (7-0 on Saturday), so we needed to get something positive. We’ve got Mercer (on Wednesday) and I understand they have several returning players. But all in all, the kids are doing fine.
“I guess I’m just happy to get one of those W’s.”