Southern had over a dozen chances to score, but it didn’t.
The Bulldogs kicked wide shots and balls that soared over the football goal posts, were picked off just five yards from fruition and strung intricate passes together that ended nowhere.
They even had one ball that reached the mouth of the cage and, like there was some magic possessing it, rolled out like it’d just changed its mind.
South River, though, wasn’t so unlucky. The Seahawks (4-8-1) netted a goal in each half to shut their hosts out, 2-0, in a game won not just in the Bulldogs’ goal, but in the hands of Seahawks keeper Hunter Wright.
“We haven’t had the best luck this season and it’s finally nice to have a good game under our belts,” Wright said. “Hopefully we can go to North County and have a good game.”
The first minutes had Southern on the defense, batting away a couple of South River attempts to rattle goalie Coleman Campbell early.
Quickly, though, the Bulldogs offense woke up, pelting Wright with shots. Senior midfielder Matt Smith was at the forefront of the offensive, nailing multiple line drives that either just grazed goal or were stopped by Wright.
After a few uneventful corners, Smith booted a shot over the yellow posts that, had it been football, would have put Southern up 3-0. Then, junior Mark Camacho crossed to Smith, who seemed to have a split-second chance to catch Wright off-guard.
Smith struck — the ball kissed the left-hand post and rolled back out.
“First half, they played with more energy than we did and they were going forward with more of a purpose than we were,” South River coach Jeff Vincent said. “We just kind of weather the storm, and allow them to push forward and hopefully not break ourselves, defensively.”
Even without completion, though, the Bulldogs were monopolizing play — until junior Seahawks forward Noah Cox blitzed the Southern midfield, stole the ball up the sideline and shot.
“He has a tremendous work rate and he never stops,” Vincent said, and continued:
“He does create his own opportunities from a hustle standpoint. … He missed a few but finished one, which was wonderful.”
Up 1-0 with about eight minutes left in the first, South River hadn’t completely taken control of the game. At the two-minute mark, junior Matthew Wigton delivered a left-foot kick toward goal, but fell under pressure. Wright stood and watched the ball sail out of harm’s way.
Entering the second half, something had changed. The offense fury the Bulldogs had put on for the first 40 minutes was diminished somewhat in the second.
“It’s nice to have momentum going forward. They controlled the game for a majority of it,” Wright said. “It was good to have the tempo back.”
Even when Southern earned a corner kick, Wright was aggressive, chasing an attempted shot out of range and then bodied it.
Then, Smith stripped the ball from Seahawks, firing two hard kicks to try and work around Wright’s defenses. But the keeper was always there, often leaping above the scrum to make the stops.
“I know we have given up a quite a few goals this year, but [Wright’s] done a great job in the back, especially one on one situations, in traffic,” Vincent said. “I know his stats don’t necessarily say that, but he’s solid.”
The Seahawks had let their hosts have too many chances, and they clearly wanted to cut it out. If the ball was in the midfield, they played a game of keep-away. If the ball was in striking zone, they, well, struck.
Cox — who led his team with five shots on goal — whipped a pass that soared well over the goal toward the parking lot. Seniors Robby Rutkai and Sean Kelly pressured Campbell, though their attempts were stifled.
But freshman Bailey Wood found fruition where his senior teammates couldn’t. The midfielder poked at Campbell once; the keeper made the save. Wood bounced back, put some air in it and looped the ball over Campbell’s head, handing South River a 2-0 lead.
As it hit the net, the Seahawks flooded him. Kelly picked Wood up and swung him around in the air.
That was the kind of improvement Vincent wanted to see. It was a sign of good things to come for the young South River squad in the future.
“Our confidence there, I think it’s just more of a learning process for our guys … and just adjusting,” Vincent said. “I have 10 sophomores and two freshmen. Physically, they’re adjusting; speed of the game, they’re adjusting.
“Hopefully this will be another step forward for us.”
Wright was emboldened by the work his teammates had done.
“I liked our effort in the last 10 minutes,” he said. “Usually, during the season, we’ve had issues with conceding goals in the last 10 minutes. It’s nice to not do that.”
The keeper fended off Southern in the last quarter, killing a couple Bulldogs corners. By the end of the night, Southern had out-shot their guests 13-7 — but Wright had built a wall that the Bulldogs just couldn’t break.
“I just got to keep concentrating and not focus on the outside things,” he said. “Just keep on the game and good things happen.”