SOUTH AMHERST — Over the course of its Patriot Athletic Conference showdown with Firelands Wednesday night, the Buckeye boys soccer team went from attack mode to survival mode.
After scoring early and matching everything the Falcons threw their way, the Bucks found themselves making sure they had enough healthy bodies to finish the night as the teams battled to a 1-1 draw.
“It seems to be the story of this year so far. We haven’t had a full team for any game,” Buckeye co-coach Jeff Koeth said. “It was our game. We should’ve put a second one away, but we didn’t. Once they got that one (goal) and then the injuries, to me, it was about hanging on.”
The Bucks (3-1-1, 1-0-1), who came into the Stars Division battle already down two starters, saw three players exit in the final 16 minutes — included were starters Ryan Grauel and Jacob Nigh to apparent ankle injuries — but found a way to keep their division championship hopes alive against a Falcons team they shared the crown with a year ago.
Outside of the bumps and bruises, the game lived up to all the hype after the schools split the season series last fall — Firelands took the regular-season contest and Buckeye got revenge in the sectional tournament.
The Bucks were ready from the opening whistle, as a little more than two minutes in Nigh flicked a ball to Grauel that the two-time Medina County scoring champion was able to punch in with a highlight-reel bicycle kick for his eighth goal of the season.
“In the first half, I thought we controlled things and played our game,” Koeth said. “We wanted to get the ball outside because they jam everything up the middle, and in the second half we said, ‘Same deal, get the ball wide,’ but I don’t think we really did that.”
Buckeye had a handful of chances to net an insurance goal, but came up short thanks to the play of goalkeeper Bryce Bartolotta (6 saves).
The best opportunity came just minutes into the half, as Nigh had an attempt that was knocked down by Bartolotta. It went to the foot of midfielder Ryan Cobb, whose try was collected by the Falcons keeper.
The missed chance proved crucial, as Firelands (3-0-2, 1-0-1) gained momentum and fired the majority of its shot attempts in the second half.
The equalizer came with 17:28 remaining, as Jordan Ruffner found some space after taking a controversial throw-in — it was taken by the Falcons after initially being awarded to the Bucks — and then dribbled it twice after a deflection off a defender. He then punched it in to spoil a solid effort from goalie Richard Gatt (5 saves).
“We saw it plain as day that it was ours, but the defense has to be smart enough when you’re winning 1-0, you don’t all start running up the field,” Koeth said of the play. “Then they did a quick throw and it’s, like, there’s nobody behind. I think our young kids got a little excited, which is understandable.”
Minutes later, Nigh and Grauel limped off the field, followed by reserve defender Brodie Gagne. Both teams traded shots that went wide of frame to close the game.
“I didn’t know if we had it in us to pressure them at the end, but we did. That was nice to see,” Koeth said. “This keeps us alive for everything. Get our guys healthy and we can continue to compete. For the circumstances, we’ll take it.”
Sophomore midfielder Adam Dougher scored in junior varsity action as Buckeye played Firelands to a 1-1 draw.
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