By the end of September, the Bay Rockets boys soccer team had played nine games and seen the same defensive tactic used against them all nine times.
Knowing the Rockets are as skilled a team as any in the state, opponents have pulled as many players to the back line as possible, clogging passing lanes and swarming whichever player in the blue jersey has possession of the ball at a given time.
The Fairview Warriors were the latest team to employ the strategy in a soggy Great Lakes Conference matchup at Bay on Sept. 30, and for much of the first half, it worked. Still the Rockets (9-0, 7-0 GLC), the top-ranked team in the state in Division II, were able to maneuver around the sea of defenders and find the net, eventually winning 5-0.
Five different players scored a goal in the Rockets’ fourth consecutive shutout victory–their eighth total shutout of the season. As the calendar turned to October last week, they’d only allowed one goal, a penalty kick scored by Rocky River on Sept. 14.
“(Having multiple scoring threats) is kind of the M.O. for the team,” Rockets coach Bobby Dougherty said. “There isn’t a way to shut down one player, because there’s too many weapons...We’ve got enough weapons that you can’t eliminate one of us.”
Playing most of the rain-soaked match in the attacking end of the field, Bay outshot Fairview (4-4, 3-4 GLC) 48-2, including a 24-0 disparity in shots on target. The Warriors’ defense bent without breaking for 30 minutes, until senior Brock Pickett punched in a goal off an Ethan Jacobs cross in the 31st, giving the Rockets the 1-0 lead. Junior Connor Bozak knocked in a deflection off the hand of Warriors goalie Tyler Danburg in the 35th to make it 2-0 just before halftime.
“(Fairview) was doing a great job of just packing it in, and their goalie was playing lights out,” Pickett said. “When you’re playing us, that’s what you’re going to have to do, pack it in and hope we don’t break through. It took us awhile, but finally (Jacobs) put a great pass in and I just kind of placed it. That first goal was the most important, especially when it’s zero-zero, so I thought that was kind of the ice-breaker there.”
Fairview’s defense started to loosen in the second half, and the Rockets took advantage. In the 47th minute, senior Matt DeCapua scored for the 3-0 lead, then freshman Milo Hignet (65th) and senior Holden Eckert (66th) added goals for extra insurance.
The lead may have grown before the end of regulation if not for the tireless play of Danburg (19 saves) and a string of late Rockets strikes that narrowly missed their target. Jacobs was awarded a penalty kick in the 68th minute and sent his shot sailing over the crossbar, and DeCapua rifled a shot in the 69th minute that caromed off the right goal post.
“Our strategy going in was to take what they were giving us, playing defense, leaving it back and seeing if we could get a run going up top,” Warriors coach Roger Brooks said. “We played well defensively in the first half and pretty much in the second half, then once it got to 3-0 we started trying to push more…(Danburg) was awesome tonight. He was amazing. He’s that way every game.”
Both teams are in action today with 7 p.m. games. Looking to maintain their No. 1-ranked status, the Rockets will next travel to Elyria Catholic for a GLC match, while the Warriors will head to Buckeye.
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