HARROD — Bluffton and Allen East met up late Thursday afternoon to battle for the Northwest Conference boys soccer title on the turf at Goodwin Field at Allen East High School.
After a scoreless first 40 minutes, the Pirates (12-2-2, 5-0 NWC) scored a pair of goals to secure a 2-0 win and close the regular season for both squads.
Nic Essinger earned the shutout in goal.
“This was one of our goals from the start of the preseason and season. To win it with a shutout is even more special,” Pirate co-captain Matt Daws said. “We put in the effort to win this game.”
Fellow co-captain Jon Schriner, who got one of the two Pirate goals, pointed out the key to the game.
“It was definitely a defensive game. Both teams did a good job of limiting the other’s offense,” Schriner said. “In the second half especially, we had better passing. That allowed us to slide some passes through the defense and allowed us to get a couple of goals.”
The third Bluffton co-captain, Simon Derstein, felt the team’s focus was a key.
“This was one of our main goals throughout the season,” Derstein said. “We showed great discipline in our effort all season. We can now turn to the postseason, re-focus on that and see what we can do in the tournament.”
The Bluffton defense was stellar from the start of the matchup, limiting the Mustangs (7-8-1, 4-1 NWC) to two shots on-goal: one by Ashton Neff at 10:45 of the first half and the second by Bryce Wilcox at 23:01 of the second half; but Essinger was up to the task.
“We had a couple of openings early on in the 18 (18-yard box) but we weren’t wide enough. We missed on a couple of passes that could have resulted in a goal,” Allen East head coach Lamar Houston said. “For us to even be in this position was a great moment for us. This was the best I’ve seen this group of guys play against Bluffton in a long time and definitely this was a great effort by us.”
The Mustangs also limited the Pirates to six shots on goal with Allen East goalkeeper Eneko Iribarren coming up with four saves.
After battling to a 0-0 draw in the first half, with defense the name of the game, the Pirates needed 59 seconds to break into the scorebook. Brandon Good slid a ball past the defense to Schriner, who fired a 12-yarder from the left wing by the goalie and into the net for a 1-0 edge.
At 18:12, Good was helped off the field with an injury and did not return.
At 16:19, the Pirates got an all-important insurance goal. This time, Jude Spallinger hooked up with Jayden Mays in close for a 2-0 edge.
“Bluffton has been a very good team for as long as I can remember. I played against them in high school from 1990-93; we beat them the first two times and tied them the next two,” Houston said. “Ever since, they have been very good. Their defense is the best in the league by far and made it extremely difficult for us to mount anything offensively.”
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