Zebras beat Maconaquah, maintain TRC title hopes
Braves’ Leary red-carded for rough hit on Pickens
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
BUNKER HILL –- Zach Pickens and Wade Shafer scored twice each to lead the Rochester boys soccer team to a 4-1 win over host Maconaquah Tuesday.
Mitchell Shafer added an assist for RHS, who improved to 7-3 overall. They completed Three Rivers Conference play 5-1.
They can still share the conference title with Manchester, but they will need the Squires to lose at Maconaquah on Monday.
Manchester, who beat RHS 3-0 on Sept. 8, can clinch the TRC title outright with a win over Maconaquah.
But the story of the game might not have been Pickens’ and Shafer’s heroics or what impact they might make on the conference title hunt as much as what happened with 19:17 left in regulation and the game tied 1-1.
As Shafer was launching a corner kick, Pickens hit the turf field grabbing his head.
RHS coach Trevor Brown was incensed and sprinted down the sideline in the direction of the center referee.
“I would not be this upset if that wasn’t the dirtiest play I’ve seen in a long time,” Brown said. His voice could be heard in the bleachers on the other side of the stadium at Maconaquah High School.
The center referee stopped the clock for an injury timeout. He told Brown to let him handle the situation and discussed the play with the assistant referee who had seen the play more closely while Shafer was taking his corner kick.
He then presented Maconaquah senior defender Richie Leary with a red card, ejecting him and forcing the Braves to play a man short for the rest of the game.
Pickens had collided with a Maconaquah player just prior to the ball going out of bounds, which necessitated Shafer’s corner kick.
“He’s taken out half our team,” a Maconaquah coach could be heard yelling in the direction of Pickens.
Then came Leary’s rough hit.
“Anytime a team goes down a man, it's a factor, and I think the way that it happened, off the ball, it was a pretty hard hit,” Brown said afterwards. “Way off the ball. The kid that did it, he’s a good player. He’s not a bad kid. He had a mental lapse. He was frustrated. I feel bad for the kid. He’s a good player, but the ref made the right call there.”
The center referee called both teams together in a huddle and lectured both for several minutes.
Pickens came back in at the 18:54 mark. He missed 23 seconds of playing time.
The diplomat in the whole ruckus might have been Maconaquah’s Bryant Teegardin, who went to shake Brown’s hand shortly after the incident and later checked on Pickens after the game.
“Teegardin, I remember him from when he was a sophomore, and since then, I always thought he was one of the best players on this team,” Brown said. “He and I talked before the game. He’s a great swimmer, so I see him in the pool, and my wife’s (Stephanie) coaching. And I try to make a point to try to go out of my way to talk to him. He’s just a stand-up kid. A ton of respect for him. He’s just a classy kid. He came over and said, ‘Hey, Coach, I’m sorry that happened.’ And after the game he came to talk to my guys and congratulated him. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”
Brown also praised Maconaquah’s Zach Sparks and called him a “great kid.”
Without Leary, the momentum of the game turned as Shafer scored twice in 38 seconds.
Shafer’s first goal came on a low skidding direct kick on the turf that he tucked inside the right post and to the Maconaquah keeper’s left at the 10:19 mark.
“That’s pretty standard,” Brown said. “You set up. You overload the back post. (Shafer) saw a gap at the near post. And is it a little bit of a gamble to play a ball low near post? Sure, but Wade’s a skilled player. He saw the gap. Credit to him for having confidence to make the play, but I don’t think the turf makes a difference on that.”
Then came another nifty finish, a right-footed flick to a vacant area of net at the 9:41 mark.
Pickens completed the scoring with 5:37 left from the penalty spot after the Braves were called for a hand ball in the box. Pickens has 24 goals on the season, including eight in his last two games.
His goal in the first half gave RHS a 1-0 halftime lead.
Brown said the key to playing on turf is playing balls to feet. Sending long balls in the air tends to lead to high bounces that are hard to control. Sending long through balls often roll harmlessly out of bounds or right into the opposing keeper’s hands.
“We didn’t score any breakaways tonight,” Brown said. “They were all build-up, balls to feet, working the ball around and getting balls in the box.”
The Zebras finish the week with two more road games against Bremen and Lakeland Christian on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.