BY JEFF FALK
SOUTH LEBANON – What it was was a colorful draw and a moral victory. But what was more important was what it wasn’t – a deflating defeat.
Yet no matter from which angle one viewed it, it was something positive to be built upon.
There was a lot to like about the Cedar Crest boys’ soccer team’s scoreless tie with Hempfield Tuesday afternoon at CCHS. Not only did the Falcons achieve it against a quality opponent and under adverse circumstances, given their recent history in the sport, it was a step forward.
Cedar Crest attained the 0-0 draw despite the fact that it played a man down for the last half of the second stanza and both ten-minute overtime sessions – roughly a span of 40 minutes. A Falcon player was issued a red card, and the selfish act caused his teammates to play ten against 11 for the remainder of the Lancaster-Lebanon Section One opener for both squads.
But the Falcons, who struggled for victories in 2012, dug deep, stepped up and improved their early season record to 0-1-1 overall and 0-0-1 in the circuit. Hempfield, the reigning District Three Class AAA champion, is now 0-0-2 on the year and 0-0-1 in the section.
“We played pretty well,” said Dustin Bixler, Cedar Crest’s second-year head coach. “It’s hard when you go down to ten players. When that happens you have to focus on your formation.
“What we did was slide back as many players as possible, we put five in the back and four in front of them,” Bixler continued. “Yeah, at that point you have to play for a tie. You know tiredness is going to be a problem, so you hope for a counter-attack.”
With the sides struggling to gain control of midfield halfway through the second half, play was halted and a Falcon player was shown, first a yellow and then a red card, disqualifying him from the contest. Though the player didn’t appear to swear, he showed the official disrespect and was tossed for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“To be honest, I actually don’t know,” said Bixler of the incident. “He (his player) got a little warning down here, and then got another warning there (at midfield). But I don’t know what happened.
“He (the official) felt something happened,” added Bixler. “But I haven’t found out what yet.”
It was the play of senior goalkeeper Tommy Black which kept the Falcons in it, both before and after the ejection. Black made at least three stellar stops to deny Black Knight advances.
The final came with three minutes remaining in the second extra session, when he leaped and got his fingertips on a well-placed Hempfield shot. The other two key stops were of the diving variety, on Black Knight attempts from in close.
With seven minutes left in regulation, the goal post proved to be Black and the Falcons’ best friend, as a dangerous Hempfield striker clanged a hard drive directly off of it.
“He’s such a monster,” said Bixler of Black. “He’s a presence. He’s such a big guy, and he’s one of our sturdiest players. He played well. He made three or four good saves, which is a normal game or what we’re used to. That’s minimal.”
“For the guys, absolutely it was a moral victory,” Bixler continued. “We want to win. We want to put one in the back of the net. But Hempfield was the champs. It was very nice to come out here and tie them.”
Perhaps the Falcons’ best opportunity to score came early in the second half, when a well-struck ball from 35 yards out sailed over the cross bar.
“Offensively, we struggled a little bit,” said Bixler. “We’re working on our attacks. It’s better, but still a long way from where we want it to be.
“We’re still building, still finding everything we have to work on,” added Bixler. “We want to build throughout the year. We won five or six games last year, and we’d like to get that up to seven or eight. We need to come through with wins and ties.”
With six coming in the second half, Hempfield out shot Cedar Crest 8-3. The Black Knights also registered ten corners to the Falcons’ three.
“I would say going forward is where we need to improve the most,” said Bixler. “That and winning balls out of the air. But our attack is what we must improve on most.
“Though the years, the club has gotten better every year,” Bixler concluded.