By BRANDON SHRIDER
Eight first-half shots on goal and a couple other strong looks still left Liberty-Benton empty-handed in Monday’s Division III district boys soccer tournament opener.
For 80 minutes, Cory-Rawson’s reserve keeper Clayton Skulina paired with a quick back line worked well together in wiping away every L-B threat.
But one overtime miscue was all the Eagles needed as Lucas Mattingly followed up a rare misplay by Skulina and ran with the ball into the net for a 1-0 win on a cold, windy field.
“The last thing there at the end was crazy,” L-B coach Aaron Troyer said.
“The more chances you get, you’re gonna score more goals. Just chip away, eventually something will happen, something good will happen. We lucked out on that one. Not our best chance, but it went in.”
Liberty-Benton, which improved to 7-6-3, will play top-seeded Van Buren in a district quarterfinal at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Van Buren. Cory-Rawson ended its season at 5-8-4.
Skulina, who was playing just his second full game after senior starter Caleb Camper could not go due to a concussion sustained on Oct. 11 against Riverdale, negated every chance L-B was getting.
Whether it was charging at the right time, snagging a shot headed for the post, or just staying his line, the Eagles couldn’t find paydirt.
But less than six minutes into overtime, with the wind at L-B’s back as it was in a hectic first half, a ball bounced into the box and Skulina was unable to play it cleanly. The ball skipped past him in a crowd of players from both teams and Mattingly came sprinting from the right wing for the finish.
“Clayton did a very good job tonight as a step in,” Hornets’ coach T.J. Routson said. “I don’t wanna say that it hurt us, because Clayton did a very good job, but he’s young. That last one, I think if he would’ve came a little more aggressive — and I think he’s thinking the same thing — he would’ve done fine.”
Skulina finished with nine saves.
The sophomore keeper was forced to be in so many plays, though, because of a strong Liberty-Benton pressure.
The ball rarely reached the Hornets’ final third as L-B possessed the ball well, and especially in the second half, found passes to feet that led to final-third looks.
Noah Aschemeier had the Eagles’ best first-half chance with 10:33 to play, when he used strong footwork to spin near the left sideline then dribbled diagonally into the box, dodging his own teammates before rifling a shot saved by Skulina.
L-B added a pair of chances where the dribbler either fell or appeared to be held in the box, with no call made.
“We felt like we could’ve had a goal or two earlier,” Troyer said. “Second half, we were just doing a better job of spreading them out and putting pressure on them. It looked like 20 (Hunter Bixler) in the back was extremely fast for them and we just couldn’t quite get past him. Our guys were making runs and he was just always there.”
Bixler and Owen Karcher, a pair of junior midfielders, were shifted to the back line early in the season and ran the defense like the midfield, “covering each other up, talking to one another, supporting one another,” Routson said.
Their speed and chemistry was a problem for L-B the entire evening. But despite a strong defense, the offense struggled moving the ball into threatening territory outside of a handful of unsuccessful counterattacks, which often led to turnovers or overpassing.
“We put some of our strengths back toward the back and worked on overloading the middle. Sometimes it worked for us, sometimes it didn’t,” Routson said.
“Our biggest struggle this year was just getting in the back of the net.”
GOALS: (L-B) Lucas Mattingly. SHOTS-ON-GOAL: Cory-Rawson 6, Liberty-Benton 10. GOALIE SAVES: (C-R) Clayton Skulina 9; (L-B) Andrew Thomas 6.
RECORDS: Cory-Rawson 5-8-4; Liberty-Benton 7-6-3.