Having a strategy is one thing, but being able to alter that strategy - on the fly, no less - when things aren't exactly going as expected, that can mean the difference between winning and losing.
On four occasions in the second half, Southwestern midfielder Tristan Desnerck attempted low, short kicks on corner opportunities, hoping to find a teammate in space who could put a shot on net. Four times, however, that approach failed.
On the fifth try, Desnerck adjusted.
Southwestern’s Andy Bell, left, and Maple Grove’s Riley Beaton race for the ball during Monday’s West Division boys soccer game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
Opting instead to try a high, lofted pass to the far post, Desnerck's new plan worked to perfection as this time he found teammate Dylan Lundmark, who leapt into the air and headed the pass into the back of the net.
The goal, which broke a scoreless tie at the 60th minute, propelled Southwestern to a 3-0 victory on Monday afternoon over the visiting Maple Grove Red Dragons, and put the Trojans a step ahead of Maple Grove in what's become, essentially, a two-team race for the West Division title.
"Scoring on that corner I think gave the players a huge boost," Southwestern coach Mark Sleggs said. "It was almost an adrenaline shot for them."
With the victory, Southwestern remained unbeaten this season - the only other squad to match that feat in the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association is Randolph - with a 6-0-2 record overall and a perfect 6-0-0 record in league.
Maple Grove, meanwhile, fell to 6-2-0 overall and, more importantly, 4-1-0 in league, putting them four points off the front-running Trojans' pace but comfortably ahead of third-place Fredonia, which sports a 1-2-1 league record.
"This was a huge win," Sleggs said. "Huge. We're thankful we won today. I was really happy with how the guys fought against a real quality opponent, and I think our guys played every bit as good as they have all season."
Lundmark's tally, his second of the season, opened the floodgates for Southwestern as it netted two more goals over the final 11 minutes of play to reach the winning margin.
"I've watched (Southwestern) play three games this year and in all three games they've really come out strong in the second half," Maple Grove co-head coach Jerry Pardue said. "This was (a good game) good for us. We can't just hammer the weak teams and be ready for playoffs. These are the kinds of games we have to play."
Maple Grove did its best to score the equalizer, but its methodical style of play - which is predicated on short passes and prolonged possession of the ball - combined with its comparative lack of fresh substitutes, didn't exactly lend itself to the comeback.
"We have four subs, they have 14," Pardue said. "Southwestern has fast athletes, they play the ball over the top while our team, we're more of a short pass, ball-control type. That works great but sometimes it's hard to get shots off because the ball gets upfield a lot slower and gives (the opposing team) time to get back (on defense)."
And that's exactly what Southwestern did, as the defensive unit - made up of goalie Eric Priester (three saves), Alex Bower, Tyler Bell, Sam Quattrone and Pat Mogehan, among others - held Maple Grove without a shot in the second half and to just three overall.
"I thought our defense played great," Sleggs said. "They made good decisions. We've been talking about playing a full game and we really needed to do that today against a team like Maple Grove."
Armed with the 1-0 advantage, Tanner Hoose increased the lead to a pair at the 70th minute when he controlled a throw-in, turned upfield and, mid-bounce from 30 yards out, drilled a shot past Maple Grove goalkeeper Kyle Richardson.
It was a play for which Pardue could only offer his congratulations.
"That was a wondershot," he said with a smile. "You just have to shake his hand and say, 'Great shot.'"
Hoose would get in on the action once more with a little more than two minutes remaining, winning possession of the ball in the middle and feeding a pass ahead to Desnerck, who had managed to get behind the Red Dragon defense. A quick chip shot later and Southwestern led, 3-0.
The assist was Hoose's team-leading fifth of the season; an interesting statistic considering the senior is the Trojans' striker.
"Tanner has distributed the ball as good as I can remember," Sleggs said. "I've just really been so proud of what he's done from last year to this year. He's really shown a lot of improvement."
This won't be the last that these two squads see of one another. They will meet again - likely with the West Division title on the line - in their penultimate league contest of the season, at Maple Grove, on October 9.
"We'll be ready for them," Pardue said.