Will Hurley believes his Mount Airy boys’ soccer team has come together as a unit since its 3-1 loss to Bishop McGuinness three weeks ago, and the veteran coach knows this cohesiveness will go a long way in the Bears’ pursuit of a conference title this season.
On Tuesday night, Mount Airy showed just how much it’s improved, taking a giant step towards a Northwest 1A title in the rematch with Bishop. The Granite Bears (11-5-1, 4-1) brushed off an early deficit and rode a game-winning goal from Cooper Nester to a 2-1 victory over the Villains.
“We have bonded better as a team,” Hurley said. “We let up in our last match against Bishop, but tonight, we were never comfortable with what we had and kept pushing.”
Bishop (9-6, 4-1) got off to a flying start and took the lead just three minutes into the match. A long ball over the defense found its way to Brandon Linares, who used a stutter-step to better his position and beat the Mount Airy goalie near post.
Perhaps the opening goal was perhaps a bit too early, though, as Mount Airy controlled the ball and found opportunities throughout the rest of the half.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Hurley said. “We let them score one goal and then we get fired up. We kick it in gear.”
One-on-one chances from Jeremy Chappell and Austin Tumbarello nearly tied the score minutes after Bishop’s opening strike, but the Bishop goalie made a foot-save on Tumbarello, and Chappell’s shot went just wide.
However, Mount Airy finally broke the cover off the Villains’ goal with six minutes remaining in the first half. Jose Perez lofted a pass over the Bishop back line and onto the run of Chappell. The senior forward took one touch and blasted a low shot to the far post and into the back of the net.
The second half followed a similar tune to the first, as Bishop erupted out of the gates. The Villains had two dangerous chances in the first five minutes, but Jesus Orozco was up to the task for Mount Airy and made the vital saves.
After this initial outburst, Mount Airy calmed down and began to dominate possession yet again. The Granite Bears grabbed hold of the game and took the lead in the 55th minute.
Mount Airy loaded the box on a Robert Brown corner kick and made it difficult for Bishop’s goalie. Nester was the first to react inside the box, flicking the ball toward the goal with his head for a 2-1 lead.
The Granite Bears kept their foot on the pedal and refused to give Bishop extended periods of possession, despite the one-goal advantage. After falling behind, the Villains’ best chances came from long throws during the final minutes.
“Possession is just so important, and I told the kids it would be important tonight. You can’t win if you don’t possess it,” Hurley said.
The extended possession also helped Mount Airy’s defense, but a physical defense that included three yellow cards easily dealt with the Villains’ attack on Monday.
Senior captain Daniel Ballard was at the heart of the Mount Airy defense. Although his performance might not show up on the stat sheet, his organization and timely tackles kept the Granite Bears out of trouble.
“We struggled on defense to start the year,” Ballard said. “But we’ve found the right pieces now, and we’re starting to communicate and click.”
Mount Airy athletic director Donald Price said that the teams will meet again at Bishop to decide a potential tiebreaker in the Northwest Conference. The schools will compete in a 10-kick penalty shootout to crown a conference champion.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16