Huntington Boys Hand Wheeling Park 1st Loss
WHEELING — The Wheeling Park boys’ soccer team is receiving a lot of attention throughout the state.
After reaching the state title game a year ago and notching a season-opening victory over last year’s state champion Hurricane, the Patriots have become a powerhouse program.
Huntington head coach Blaine Stoll and his squad were well aware of their opponent’s success coming into Saturday’s match and were up to the challenge as the Highlanders handed Park its first loss to a tune of a 1-0 final.
Stoll constantly reminded his team during the match about the importance of being the first to reach every loose ball on the field.
“They are a very good team and we knew that,” Stoll said of the Patriots. “We talked in practice about the commitment to making sure we had a chance at every 50/50 ball and that we came in hard to win that ball.”
Park coach Mario Julian also understands the recent success of his team comes with the responsibility of facing every team’s best effort and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Everybody knows that Wheeling Park is one of the better teams and I think we got their best (Saturday),” Julian said. “They were aggressive and they defended everything. We have faced pressure like that before but we just didn’t handle it well.
“I still thought we played with a lot of effort and had a lot of possessions of the ball on their end. We did good with that. We had our chances but just couldn’t finish.”
One of those chances came when Philip White sent a cross pass in front of the net to teammate Louie Aulick, who delivered a shot just over the net with 10 seconds left in the half.
The Patriots also had opportunities late in the match but Huntington goalkeeper Dylan Shultz was there to make key stops. He finished with five saves.
Wheeling Park’s defense held the Highlanders to just three shots on goal and Park goalie Zach Calvert collected two of the three shots.
“When you give up just three shots, you’re usually going to come out on the good end of that,” Julian said. “I just don’t think we created enough offense. We got corner kicks but couldn’t get on the end of it.”
Huntington’s lone goal came off the leg of freshman Blake Tsai at the 23:05 mark of the first half, which proved to be the game-winner.
Skylar Cyrus kick-started the scoring play as he intercepted a Wheeling Park attack and dribbled the ball down the right sideline. He fired a dart towards the net, where Tsai was waiting to drive it home for his second career goal.
“We caught them in a good counter,” Stoll said. “Skylar made a good play down the right side and Blake filled the middle just how he is supposed to.
“Blake had just subbed in for our normal forward and then he ended up getting the game-winning goal. He is doing very well.”
Julian was impressed with the speed of Cyrus on the game-changing play.
“They countered our attack really well,” Julian said. “(Cyrus) is very fast and we didn’t contain him. He got behind our defense and made a great pass.
“We work on that all the time and they perfected it right there.”
A key moment in the match for Park came early in the second half when Huntington’s Sal Sualle raced down the field on a breakaway but Park defender Clayton Meredith tracked him down to break up the play and keep it a one-score game.
“(Wheeling Park) plays hard,” Stoll said. “Mario is and always has been an excellent coach and his guys are always organized. We love playing here.
“This type of game is what we do this for and we hope to see them again in the state tournament.”