For as dominant as Creston was throughout the second half, the score was perilously close for the Panther boys here Tuesday night.
After holding a 3-2 halftime lead over visiting Chariton, the Panthers took advantage of a wind at their backs in keeping the ball on their offensive end nearly the entire second half.
With 38 minutes left, Conner Pals finished a breakaway down the right side with a sharp-angling goal to make it a 4-2 margin. During the next 13 minutes several other hard Panther shots were blocked, or just barely missed the net.
Coach Jesus Rodriguez began substituting as Creston seemed to be just finishing out its first victory, after Monday’s 3-2 season-opening loss to St. Albert.
Then, suddenly, the Chargers were within one goal of tying the match after a foul in the box led to the second goal of the night by Asa St. Lawrence, making it 4-3 with 6:33 remaining.
Panther goalkeeper Alex Nielsen made his fourth save of the night with 1:25 left, preserving the one-goal victory.
Despite facing the wind in the first half, Creston was able to build a 3-2 lead on a richochet goal by freshman Gavin Woods, another by McClain Haines and a third by Gavin Leith. Asa St. Lawrence and Eduard Rodygin scored for Chariton.
After a relatively even first 40 minutes, the shot differential was much larger in favor of the Panthers in the second half.
“I told the guys, we have to make it psychological on them when we have the wind in the second half,” Rodriguez said. “We were pushing hard. I told (defenders) Kaleb Cook, Brant Hudson and Kyle Jennett to stay around the half, and the rest will be pushing up. The only bad thing was, we were not scoring. Those shots weren’t going in.”
Still, the relentless offensive pressure took a lot of heat off the Panther defense that was operating again without the services of experienced junior Tayler Pettit, who hopes to come back from a mild knee MCL sprain Thursday at West Central Valley.
“You could see Tayler over there on the sideline, talking and calling out plays,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what we’re missing sometimes out on the field. But I’m not going to rush him if he’s not ready. I’d rather have him miss three games than the rest of the season.”
Another returning defender with a knee problem, senior Trevor Frain, may be ready at midseason after a couple of weeks of rehabilitation.
Going into Thursday’s match at Stuart, Rodriguez said there is still room for improvement for the 1-1 Panthers.
“We can do better,” he said. “One thing we have to do more is combine with each other. Sometimes we dribble the ball too much. We need to keep more possessions. And, if you have half a second, you have to shoot. The ball does not have to be set up perfectly.”
Creston won the JV match, 3-0. Isaiah Foster, Skylar Cook and Tyler Helm scored for the Panthers. Jake Miller and Caleb Cramer share goalkeeper duties in the shutout.
Creston 4, Chariton 3
Creston (4) — Gavin Leith 24:01 first half; Gavin Woods 10:17 first half; McClain Haines 9:07 first half; Conner Pals 38:14 second half. Assists — Jake Miller, Levi Eblen. Shots on goal — 27. Individual shots — Pals 10, Haines 5, Leith 4, Ben Irr 3, Chase Shiltz 2, Levi Eblen 1, Gavin Woods 1, Skylar Cook 1, Connor Kinkade 1. Keeper saves — Alex Nielsen 4. Cards — None.
Chariton (3) — Asa St. Lawrence 35:04 first half; Eduard Rodygin 14:01 first half; St. Lawrence penalty kick 6:33 second half. Assists — Spencer Sherrick, St. Lawrence. Shots on goal — 7. Saves — Tim Timofeyev 10.