AACS boys soccer shines at both ends

bburden@baltsun.com

Following a very basic soccer philosophy of following your shot paid big dividends for AACS in its boys soccer game against St. Mary’s Wednesday afternoon.

Collin O’Keefe did in the first half, and Justin Alford did late in the second to score goals, and goalkeeper Nick Lloyd sandwiched a penalty kick save in between to give the Eagles their first clean sheet of the season in a 2-0 victory over the visiting Saints.

“We are getting plenty of goals, but if you have the opposition scoring consistently in return, it ends up being a basketball game. And it is not a basketball game,” AACS coach Vaughn Ridings said.

Drew Miller fed balls to his teammates up top all game for AACS (2-4-1), and he helped spring Alford free in the 25th minute to fire a shot at St. Mary’s (0-6-1) goalkeeper Chris Spindler, who made the initial stop. However, O’Keefe was free on the back side and finished into an open net.

“I am real happy with how Drew has been leading balls in from behind and that leads to shots and rebounds and follow-ups,” Ridings said.

The Eagles had surrendered 16 goals in six matches coming in, with no shutouts. That was a statistic Lloyd and his defensive teammates wanted to keep from expanding against the Saints.

“We came out today and wanted to shut them down entirely the whole game,” Lloyd said. “They locked it down ahead of me. We were constantly adjusting to what they were bringing at us.”

The Saints had consistent opportunities throughout the game, taking 10 shots and putting eight on goal. Sam Friel almost beat Lloyd into an open goal in the 32nd minute, but his attempt went to the left of the net. Dom Simpson sent several dangerous free kicks into the box that tested Lloyd, but he he either snagged all crosses in, or made the initial and secondary stops of his opponents’ shots. His biggest save, however, came after he was called for a penalty by sliding and taking out a St. Mary’s player in the box on a 50-50 ball. With just over 18 minutes to play, Lloyd stood firm in the middle of the goal line and confidently stopped a penalty attempt right at him.

“Penalties are all about focus for me. If you are not focused, you are going to lose 99 percent of them,” Lloyd said.

Ridings is happy to have the veteran netminder between the pipes on penalty situations.

“Nick has a fantastic record on penalties. He saved one in the last game as well,” Ridings said. “You just have to deal in those situations and he has the mental fortitude to do so.”

Lloyd finished with eight saves, while Spindler had seven for St. Mary’s.

The Saints just could not find the back of the net, and were held scoreless for the second straight game and third time this season. The team is building under first-year coach Corey Childs, and the results are on the doorstep, but not quite there.

“From the get go, we have made strides,” Childs said. “First, we worked on defense, and now we are working on getting into the final third. Unfortunately, we are hitting posts, missing shots and just not getting that final product. It is about taking that initiative to put it in the back of the net.”

With just under 10 minutes to play, Alford followed up on an initial stop by Spindler, who could not get the ball completely out of harm’s way. He scored his fifth goal of the season to clinch the win.

“He is pure athleticism,” Ridings said. “There just isn’t anyone out there who is as strong or as fast, but you cannot rely on just that. You have to time your runs and make them count, and he is learning that a lot more. He did a great job splitting the center backs today.”

Both the Eagles and Saints are trying to get some momentum going as the season progresses into the middle third.

“We got our first point on Monday and had a good practice yesterday, and you would hope that once we find the back of the net, we can keep moving forward,” Childs said. “We have 14 seniors on this team, and we need to continue to have leaders to keep battling for 80 minutes and get that elusive result.”

For Lloyd, this win hopefully generates a different kind of streak.

“We need to hit the ground running,” Lloyd said. “We got our feet wet and hopefully we can use this as a platform to build on.”

AACS 2, St. Mary’s 0

Goals: AC — O’Keefe, Alford.

Saves: SM – Spindler 7; AC – Lloyd 8.

Half: AACS, 1-0

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