BRIDGEWATER Heading into the season opener against Bernards, Immaculata boys soccer coach Dominic Rice knew his team had a chance to beat the Mountaineers, the reigning Skyland Conference Valley Division champions.
Rice and the Spartans had to settle for a 1-1 double overtime tie on Thursday afternoon despite having a few chances in the second half and overtime periods to score a game-winner.
“I was expecting pretty much a win, I don’t think anybody gave us a lot of hope going into the game, I think everybody expected us to lose the game, I didn’t go in there expecting to lose the game, that’s for sure,” Rice said. “I knew it was going to be tight, I thought we started the game a little shaky, first game of the season, first half didn’t look great defensively, a little out of sorts but they went ahead with the goal and then I think second half to be honest, we deserved the equalizing goal.”
The Mountaineers came out swarming as Immaculata spent a majority of the first half in their own zone playing defense. With 22:50 to play junior forward Dan Paez scored on an assist from senior Dan Schindler to put Bernards ahead 1-0.
Immaculata was outshot 5-1 in the first half, but after halftime the Spartans looked like a different team. In the second half it was Bernards’ turn to play defense as Immaculata’s offense started to apply pressure in order to get the equalizing goal.
With 15:27 left in the game sophomore Kendall Isaih Davis took the ball down the left side of the field and sent a shot at Bernards goalie Andres Lezme. Lezme couldn’t hold on to the ball and it popped back out into play where senior forward Jack Rutledge was waiting and he slid the ball into the goal for the 1-1 tie.
“We knew they lost a few kids, a bunch of seniors, we just tried to come out fast, play strong the way we always do and I guess they just got more momentum as the game went on and caught up to us,” Schindler said. “They got the lucky goal, it slipped through our keepers hands and it was even from there.”
With 7:05 left Bernards almost scored the winner but the ball bounced off the crossbar. The same thing happened to Immaculata when Rutledge’s shot also hit the crossbar with eight minutes to play in the first overtime.
“I think we were the better team going into the second half, we kind of shut them down, they didn’t really create a lot of opportunities, they then hit the crossbar from the header and then we hit the crossbar,” Rice said. “Overall I’m happy with the 1-1 tie, I would have taken that before the game but I think we ended the game the stronger team of the two.”
For the Spartans, Thursday’s opener was a learning experience of sorts as Rice had four freshmen on the field, including goalie Anthony Ivanov, who made six saves.
“To be honest they surprised me today and I think we are better than what I thought we were going to be and I think people are going to look at the result and be a little surprised, but I don’t think if you watched the game you would be surprised at the result,” Rice said.
For Bernards, the tie against a team it defeated twice last season was also looked at as a learning experience.
“They gained momentum and we lost the momentum that we had in the beginning,” Schindler said. “We came out firing tons of shots, unfortunately we didn’t capitalize on those, didn’t score, but it’s something to learn from.”
Staff Writer Lauren Knego: email@example.com