Mayfield midfielder John Fancher, right, lunges to control the ball in front of OESJ defender Zach Mosher, left, during a boys soccer match Monday at Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville High School. (Adam Shinder/Recorder staff)
By ADAM SHINDER
ST. JOHNSVILLE — After an early flurry, things settled in Monday afternoon between two of the elite boys soccer teams in the Western Athletic Conference, and after 100 minutes, there was no separating the Mayfield Panthers and Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Wolfpack.
Alex Ringer got Mayfield on the board less than 10 minutes into the match, then Trent Barker equalized only a couple of minutes later, and from that point on neither team could find the back of the net as the match at OESJ High School finished in a 1-1 draw.
“That was fun to watch, fun to coach, too,” OESJ coach Mark Snell said. “We knew coming into this game that [Mayfield was] a very good team. They’re always good, and my boys came to play tonight. They wanted the win, and we got the tie.”
It was the second straight draw for WAC Division 1 leader Mayfield (11-0-2, 8-0-1 WAC), which had won its first 11 matches of the season prior to Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Greenwich. Still, the No. 7 team in this week’s New York State Sportswriters Association Class C rankings remained the only team in the league yet to taste defeat this season.
“Sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don’t,” Mayfield coach Jon Caraco said. “We gave them a lot of free kicks, and without those free kicks we did a good job limiting their opportunities. Right now, we’re playing as a team that’s pretty hard to beat (defensively), and now we need to add a little more danger on the other end.”
OESJ (10-1-1, 7-1-1) ran its unbeaten streak to six consecutive games since the Wolfpack suffered their lone loss of the season back on Sept. 13, when they were knocked off 6-0 on the road against Berne-Knox-Westerlo. The draw knocked them into second place behind Galway in the WAC Division 2 standings.
“They’ve been in from day one,” Snell said. “They haven’t let up. We had one game where we were a little off our game and had a little bit of a letdown, but we came right back after that.”
“We’ve got six seniors on the team, five of them are starters, and they’re all-in for the season,” he added. “We’re looking forward to sectionals in a couple weeks.”
It took only a few minutes for Mayfield to get on the board. A misdirected defensive header off what seemed to be an innocuous long pass from Tommy Gates sent the ball rolling toward the 18-yard box, and Ringer won a footrace with OESJ defender Robert Snell before deftly chipping the ball past charging Wolfpack goalie Elias Sanchez and into the net.
OESJ put things back on level terms only a few minutes later when a handball awarded the Wolfpack a free kick about 35 yards from the goal that Barker struck perfectly with a curling shot into the top left corner of the goal.
“That was big. It showed me a lot,” Mark Snell said.
For the rest of regulation and the 20 minutes of overtime, both teams were largely frustrated when the ball approached the box. Mayfield had the lion’s share of possession and racked up 11 corner kicks, but OESJ’s Sanchez commanded his penalty area well and avoided trouble.
“That’s been a little bit of an Achilles heel all year — our corner kicks,” Caraco said. “I feel like we’re close. We had two today that we got our heads on, and one went just wide. We’ve got to be more dangerous on corner kicks.”
Mayfield had its best chance to win the game with a little more than two minutes left in the second overtime session when Colby Brandow got a step on his defender to get into the box, but his shot rolled just wide of the goalpost.
OESJ’s best chances came off free kicks on the edge of the box, including one late in the first half that Barker sent in from the left wing. The ball bounced dangerously past Mayfield goalie Evan Lehr, but Gates stepped in to smash the ball clear of trouble.
For the most part, Mayfield’s central defensive pair of Gates and Garrett Delaney stymied the OESJ attack whenever it threatened — something that’s become no surprise to Caraco.
“I’m not sure I can say enough about Tommy and Garrett,” Caraco said. “I know that if we get scored on, then the other team has earned it, because I feel like those two feel personally offended if they give up a shot. They put their bodies out there on the line, they communicate very well and they really do a great job getting in front of people to make sure we don’t give up any quick shots.”
Sanchez finished with seven saves for OESJ, with Lehr making four stops for Mayfield.
Both teams will be back in action Wednesday, with Mayfield hosting Schoharie at 4:15 p.m. and OESJ visiting Fonda-Fultonville at 7 p.m.