ALBANY — Generally speaking, a senior night or homecoming game is usually planned with an opponent who gives the home side a pretty comfortable matchup.
Kirk Crow’s Alexander Spartans probably had to look twice when senior night appeared on their schedule. They would be entertaining the Black Knights of Point Pleasant, ranked number one in West Virginia and even considered a national top fifty team. The Knights arrived in Albany a confident team with a lineup that appeared swift, strong and skilled.
But the Spartans also have a storied tradition; they know the game and each other as family. That was evident in the pre-game ceremonies for seniors Parker Bolin, Jace Ervin, Braidan Sigman-Hall, and especially Bradley Metz. Metz has not played soccer since a debilitating stroke and was escorted across the field in his mobility device by the entire team in a show of solidarity.
The game was akin to a heavy weight bout, with both sides challenging each other and feeling out what might work. Alexander held sway for the first ten minutes, pressuring the defense from a number of angles with Bolin and Kyler D’Augustino. Bolin, the tallest Spartan, was usually matched with the head taller Nick Cichon-Ledderhose. The towering German exchange student and Bolin banged together for most of the match. “It was uncomfortable at first (against the taller man) but we adjusted to it and got the momentum,” Bolin commented.
Then things got more physical. A bit over ten minutes into the half, Jaren Reed was levied a yellow card for a hard foul and that was a portent of things to come.
D’Augustino created the first substantial attempt midway through with a wicked blast from the right side the temporarily handcuffed keeper Brecken Louden but the sophomore recovered to tip that shot away. A minute later D’Augustino broke clear and Louden had to work to smother the attempt.
As the game began looking more like “The Thrilla in Manila”, the Spartans’ Jagger Cain was given a yellow card, and the physical nature of the night was to elevate. That was followed by a yellow card to Cael McCutcheon for a hard challenge.
But the Spartans did not flinch and held the highly regarded Black Knights without a meaningful shot on goal in the first forty minutes.
“We had seen films of their games so we knew they would come in confident and physical,” Crow said. “They are a good passing team but we controlled the defensive third with Jace Ervin, Alex Norris, Tyler Brooks, and moved Ethan Neidhart to the back line.”
Thirty seconds after the second half whistle blew, D’Augustino broke clear and pounded a shot that hit the side netting. A few ticks of the clock later, he was one-on-one with Louden on a big run. The sophomore keeper and the junior crashed into each other, the shot was saved, but Louden had to leave the game. Keeping the pressure on, D’Augustino headed a Dylan Allison corner kick but was called for a foul and he was given a yellow card.
Bolin was also busy with his continuing clashes with his German counterpart, but was able to slide by him several times for open looks. He nearly counted twice but his shots just ticked over the crossbar.
Then the fouls came more frequent and bodies were hitting the sod with more frequency. Bolin was taken down on several occasions as he worked through the defense.
The action was back and forth for the next ten minutes and the Black Knights were able to use some nifty passing to get out of their back and into the midfield. However, anything they rang up were relegated to send-ins the Spartan netminder Landon Ding could cover.
In the last ten minutes of the stanza, yellow cards were the order of the night. First, Neidhart got one for a major challenge. Then D’Augustino was called for his second and had to leave the game, forcing the Spartans to be down a man.
Though they had the advantage, the Knights were unable to capitalize and they were down to ten when Brayden Rudolph was given a yellow and a red for a serious foul. A complaining head coach Chip Wood also got a yellow card after the play.
Bolin sent the resulting free kick toward the upper shelf but Louden, now back on the pitch, got his hand on the ball and flicked it away. Thirty seconds later, taking the throw-in Neidhart barely missed wide with a rip from the middle.
The yellow card parade wasn’t over. As he knocked Bolin over one more time, Cichon-Ledderhose earned the last one of the night. As the time clicked away, the scoreboard showed zeroes for both sides in what was indeed a battle royal of a soccer match.
Bolin reflected on such a match for his senior night: “this was special, we fought and gained the momentum all through the second half. I thought we were going to get one (in goal) and beat the number one team in West Virginia. It didn’t work out, though.”
Crow was especially proud of his team and how they showed grit all night. “Everyone played well. In the last few minutes, Alex Norris had a great defensive stand on their striker and stopped him cold. We played a strong, skilled, confident team and that kind of performance should carry us into tournament time.”
Seeding voting will take place this weekend the Spartans should get a favorable spot.
With the twelve wins in the books, Alexander will get a break until next Thursday when they will host long-time foe Unioto.