Rock Bridge nips Owls in classic NCMC showdown
Tuesday's much-anticipated showdown between defending NCMC boys' soccer champion Rock Bridge and fourth-ranked Marshall provided all the excitement and tension one could want.
There were thrills and spills, and demonstration of skills, with the contest going into overtime for the first time in the eight years these two schools have played one another before senior Marco Pagoada's mid-range drive in the sixth minute won it for the Bruins, 2-1.
Such has the bar been raised for the Owls' program that head coach Rayshawn Mars couldn't be satisfied with the closest match his team had ever given Rock Bridge.
"A loss is still a loss," he declared. "I'm not up for the moral victory."
The Marshall players were likewise disappointed that they couldn't salvage a victory which would put them into position to claim a share of the conference championship.
"We can play better," remarked senior Hugo Farfan. "In the last few minutes, we don't always pay attention. We make mistakes."
There were a few of those, but mostly it was high-intensity soccer, with the teams exchanging control of the action.
The Owls had a chance in the ninth minute when junior Ryan Guthrie set up senior José "Chele" Aguilar for a 21-yard blast which forced junior goalkeeper Tanner Mills to stretch out on a dive to his right to stop the shot.
The Bruins were denied six minutes later by MHS junior 'keeper Cristian Barceñas, batting the ball over the crossbar after junior David Hilderbrand turned the right corner and attacked from 12 yards out. Rock Bridge appeared to have scored when senior Matt Lightner stuck in Pagoada's corner kick on the weak side, but an offsides penalty waved it off.
With 16:50 left in the half, sophomore José Garcia unloaded a shot from in front of the Bruins' net, but a defender deflected it and Mills ranged over to scoop it up.
Rock Bridge broke through with 2:59 remaining in the period when junior Tim Humlicek settled Pagoada's corner kick after it passed through the crease and slipped a pass to junior Michael Ferguson for a 10-yard shot into the upper right corner.
"Opportunistic; it landed right on his feet," Mars described the sequence. "Nobody could do anything about it."
Pagoada threatened to give the Bruins a two-goal lead 13 minutes into the second half when his 30-yard free kick sliced toward the right. It was inside the goalpost by a foot, but hit the bar and caromed out.
Farfan made a couple of runs through the Rock Bridge defense during the next three minutes, but the Owls were unable to get off a shot.
It looked like Marshall would pull even when junior Douglas Hernandez got a pass into the middle to freshman José Angel Aguilar -- unleashing a sidewinder kick that had Mills beat, but missed by a yard to the right.
"We had our chances," Guthrie noted. "We just didn't capitalize when we needed to."
Aguilar and Mills would tangle shortly in the match's most controversial incident. Both chased a loose ball just outside the penalty box, with Mills blasting it off of Aguilar's shins as the two collided.
With the ball heading toward the goal line, Mills made sure the striker wouldn't get to it by tackling Aguilar, holding him down and then delivering a knee to the ribs. Referee Ron McMillian, part of a top-notch officiating crew, was distracted near midfield and didn't see the altercation to make a call.
As time wound down, the Owls intensified the attack. Senior Josh Deaton was being used for sideline throw-ins in Bruin territory, and his strong heaves finally paid off when Guthrie got control and stuck a boot into the lower right corner.
"It came right up to my check and I one-timed it," he explained. "I knew it was going in. I just felt it."
Marshall had another crack in the final two minutes when Hernandez unleashed a rocket which cleared the bar by a couple of feet. The Owls even got an opportunity in the opening minute of the extra frame when Guthrie's 20-yarder off of a Farfan cross went right at Mills.
However, Rock Bridge (15-5, 6-0 NCMC) took control three minutes into OT and kept the ball in the home end for an extended stretch. When Pagoada intercepted a weak clearing kick 25 yards from the net, he was in position to loosen a liner into the far corner for the "golden goal."
"They've proven they can match up with anybody," Mars reflected on his team's status. However, "in the end, you have to be ready."
All four of Marshall's losses have been by one goal to Class 3 opponents. The Owls (14-4, 5-2) won't see any more large schools this season, but has some tough matches ahead: Thursday at Sacred Heart, No. 4 in Class 1, and Saturday when Hannibal -- so far unbeaten in NCMC play -- visits to decide the top seed in the upcoming Class 2, District 7 Tournament. The ultimate goal?
"State title," Farfan asserted. "We have more experience now and we can tell the other guys how it is."
If, in fact, Marshall can get back to the Final Four.