By Clay Fowler Staff Writer
With a No. 1 ranking and a combined zero league losses in tow, the Damien and Claremont boys soccer teams were pleased entering Wednesday’s Sierra League showdown. After a scoreless tie that included overtime, everybody left with similar emotions. “We knew it wasn’t going to be pretty,” Damien coach Eric McElrea said. “We knew it was going to be a lot of bumps and bruises, but this is a good result for us, especially on the road.” Said Claremont coach Fred Bruce-Oliver: “I’m happy. The only way I could be happier is if we’d gotten one of those goals to go in.”
Claremont, which boasts the top ranking in Division II, had several quality opportunities, but even without starting goalie Garrett Franklin, who tore a knee ligament in practice Monday, the Spartans (7-2-6, 4-0-1) held off the Wolfpack (12-0-5, 4-0-1).
The best chance came last when Claremont defender Stephen Barba’s shot caromed off the crossbar in overtime.
There also was a chance for Claremont early in the second half, when junior midfielder Troy Ford ended up with the ball less than 10 yards from the net with two Claremont teammates flanking him. With his back to the goal, he quickly flipped the ball back, only to have Damien goalie Tim Schwan save the slow roller.
“We had some really good chances,” Bruce-Oliver said. “When the time comes again to play them at the end of the season, we’ll gear up again.”
Damien, which had just four shots to Claremont’s 10, had a couple of good runs at the net but didn’t really test Wolfpack goalkeeper Jake Teagle.
With four minutes remaining in overtime, Damien’s Ryan Purington got behind one defender but was forced to shoot earlier than he wanted as a second Claremont defender closed in. The junior forward’s shot rolled harmlessly wide of the net.
“I think (Franklin) was definitely the best goalkeeper in the league, but Tim helped us a lot tonight,” McElrea said.
“I think we showed them we can play with them. When we get them at our place, we want to try and play our game a little bit more. Instead of the ball in the air a lot, we’d like to try and keep it on the ground.”