In Ron Shelton’s classic film Bull Durham, Eddie Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh becomes very excited after finally leaving the field without a loss. He explains his joy to Crash Davis: “I love winning man….I love winning it’s like…..you know, better than losing.” While Eddie was never the sharpest nail in the keg, his words hold true, and our boys were finally able to walk off the field with well-deserved grins.
On Saturday we faced off against Cushing Academy’s JV2 squad at home. The first few minute of play appeared to be an ominous sign: Cushing brought the ball deep into our end and blasted it over the net. Thankfully, our boys regrouped. Will Hayes stole the ball from the midfield, passed it up to Jon Li in the corner, who passed it to Jack Lavallee, who sent it up to Will on the inside. Now even though the Cushing keeper was able to make the save, we got to see how well our boys were working together.
At the five-minute mark, Ollie Cozzi trapped the ball at the top of the box and sent a chip out toward the goal. The keeper was able to get a fist on it and deflected up to a charging Tryder Kulbacki. Tryder tapped it up to Jack who shot it in for Kimball Union’s first goal of the game. This was the boost we needed.
Cushing, however, was not going to give up and kept shelling Max van Dijk with blasts from the outside, finesse shots from the side, and crashing drives up too close; and yet, Max aggressively shut each attempt down. Cam Barton continued his smart plays on the defensive side, while we saw Keenan Thygesen send crisp passes and a long clip into the middle from the outside. Unfortunately, he was cheated out of what would have been a beautiful goal. Trong Phan also worked hard with Tryder and Jon to get in close, but each of his shots were saved or knocked wide.
Then with less than ten minutes in the half, Kyle Young made a clutch stop and booted the ball way up into Cushing’s defensive end. Trong got control. He then took a shot from outside the penalty box and sent it into the top corner to put us up by two. Trong followed up this great play a few minutes later when he used a header to block a direct kick from just outside the box to end the half.
The Wildcats were feeling good, but knew from personal experience that a team could fight its way back from a 0-2 deficit. Josh Wang took over in the net and quickly displayed his ability to make saves. Jon caught a pass up from David Choung and sprinted for the goal. Inside the box he was tackled from behind but nothing was called. The game began to get more physical. Kevin Tran who had been playing well at midfield had to be called off the field when his glasses cut his nose after a close play. His brother Kiel took over on the defensive line and played a man-on-man defensive role against one of Cushing’s fastest players - he relentlessly dogged him and kept him from making successful plays. Fintan Trimble also proved his mettle at defense and even sent a beautiful long pass up to Yohan Do who forced the keeper to scramble.
Fifteen minutes in and the score was unchanged. We saw incredible pressure exerted by KUA’s offensive line. Multiple shots peppered the Cushing keeper from, Jon, Tryder, Trong, Yohan, and David. Jon kept getting in close, but continued to be disappointed. With twenty minutes left, Liam McKewan sent a pass from the right side into an advancing Ollie in the middle. Liam continued up the side as the defense attacked Ollie. Ollie sent the pass back to Liam at the corner and Liam lit up a picture perfect shot over the keeper and into the opposite top corner. We were enjoying our widest lead of the season.
The suddenly with twelve minutes left we were charged with a tackle inside the box and Cushing was awarded a PK. Although Josh made a valiant dive for it, the ball was well placed against the lower post. Cushing had lessened the lead by one and they were excited. They built their momentum and four minutes later blasted the ball over Josh’s head from inside the box. We were within one point.
The field was electrified and both teams knew that the next goal was key. Our defensive line stepped up to the challenge and the combined force of Ben Weise, Kyle Young, and Nick Wilder would not allow the ball to enter in too close. Then with two minutes into injury time and what proved to be seconds from the end of the match. Tryder Kulbacki stole the ball and took a shot from the top of the box. The Cushing keeper was able to get his fingers on it, but couldn’t catch it. Jon Li, after an afternoon of thwarted attempts, proved that persistence often pays well. He gently trapped the ball and touched in a finesse shot to seal the victory for Kimball Union.
And so it was that we got to experience our first hard fought victory. There were smiles on the boys faces, they got to ring Elva’s Bell, and they all agreed that winning is definitely “better than losing.”
This Wednesday we will travel to Proctor Academy to play their JV1 team at 2:30.