It was a different playing environment for Mead’s boys soccer team Saturday. Perhaps it was because the Panthers were in the State 4A quarterfinals, but surely because the temperature was approaching 90 degrees.
The heat was a factor for both teams, coaches said, as Eastlake edged Mead 3-2 and advanced to the state semifinal. The game started at noon, when the sun was at its highest.
“We substituted early, and I think that helped us at the end of the game. I really do,” Eastlake coach Adam Gervis said. “I think when it came to push and shove, our boys had something left.”
The Wolves controlled the ball and the pace for most of the 80 minutes. It was the first 40, though, that really counted, since neither team scored in the second half.
Eastlake jumped out to a quick lead, scoring two goals in the first 11 minutes. Both goals were scored by senior forward Tyler Klein, who headed in two corner kicks.
“We came out a little nervous,” Mead coach Matt Stueckle said. “That first 10, 15 minutes, (it) took us time to kind of get going.”
Mead got on the scoreboard with about 23 minutes left in the first half. Senior forward Jason Hamer headed a corner kick in the goal for the Panthers’ first goal.
“We still weren’t even 20 minutes into the game, and that kind of gave us energy,” Stueckle said. “We kind of settled in after that.”
The Panthers grew back some teeth and started attacking. The ball stayed longer in Eastlake territory, and Hamer, on a fastbreak up the middle, narrowly missed a shot over the goal.
Toward the end of the half, the heat started getting to the players, and Mead slowed down. Eastlake’s Michael Short tapped in a close goal to take a 3-1 lead, and Hamer subbed out limping with 3:35 left in the half.
So, his brother took over. With about one minute left in the period, sophomore midfielder Nick Hamer booted a long goal off a penalty-kick pass. At halftime, and for the rest of the game, Eastlake led 3-2.
“Neither team was really able to create very much through the run of play,” Stueckle said. “Both teams were most dangerous for scoring goals on set pieces.”
With just seconds left on the clock, and the Panthers preparing for a corner kick, they had a good chance to tie up the game. Chance Johnstone’s kick was deflected away from Eastlake’s goal, and the referee blew the long whistle.
“I think they’re feeling pretty down,” Stueckle said of his Panthers, who finished the season 13-3. “I mean, it was a close game.”
Eastlake (13-7) goes on to play Bellarmine Friday at Harry Lang Stadium in Lakewood.