The battle of the top two teams in Class 3A went Worland’s way on Thursday, as the unbeaten Warriors held on to the No. 1 spot with a 3-0 win over the visiting Powell High School boys’ soccer team.
“We knew it would be a tough game. They’re [Worland] better as a team, and they’re deep,” said PHS head coach Dave Gilliatt. “We didn’t go into the game with a huge amount of pressure on us; I think it was more on them, actually. And they stepped up and played well.”
The Warriors (9-0, 5-0 in 3A West) scored two goals in the first half, and took that 2-0 lead into the break; they scored an insurance goal in the game’s final minutes on a penalty kick. Gilliatt said Worland did a nice job pressing the middle, looking for holes they could create opportunities from.
“Worland did a good job of marking up our guys and playing tight defense,” he said. “They worked hard. For me, they play the closest style that we do, and I think they just executed better than we did.”
Overall, Gilliatt said the Panthers (7-3, 2-2 in 3A West) didn’t make many mistakes, but the ones they did make proved costly.
“The two goals they [Worland] scored in the first half were off of two mistakes,” he said. “I felt it was a pretty close game otherwise. We had two chances to score as well. We just couldn’t convert.”
Powell’s best chance to score in the first half came off the foot of Sam Bauer, who caught Worland’s keeper out of position. A defender was able to drop back enough to make a play on Bauer’s shot and eliminate the threat.
“The net was open, the defender just made a nice play,” Gilliatt said.
Sam Bauer found the back of the net in the second half, but the sophomore was called offsides on the play and the goal was disallowed.
“It’s really deflating when you get a goal called back,” Gilliatt said. “We get that goal, the momentum shifts. Two-nil is the most dangerous thing there is. We get one goal, and we’re back in the game. It’s that simple.”
The loss will serve as a learning experience for the young Panthers, who responded well in defeat, according to their coach.
“I could read our players post-game, and I could tell how upset they were,” Gilliatt said. “That to me says I have a great group of competitors. They care about the outcome. I can work with that. Losses like this force you to audit yourself and figure out what we need to do to get better.”
As for what he liked in the contest, Gilliatt said he was pleased with Ashton Brewer’s performance in net.
“He [Brewer] made the saves that he should have made,” he said. “I think overall, our defense did a good job of preventing shots from [Worland’s] Rylan Mocko, who’s one of the stronger forwards in Wyoming high school soccer. We worked on containing him, though he did deliver a cross that they scored off of. But I think we did a good job of limiting his offense.”
As for things to work on, Gilliatt said the Panthers’ execution, on both sides of the ball, was not as as good as in recent games, something they’ll address in practice this week.
“Defensively, we were ball-watching too much in the first half,” he said. “But the defense really stepped up in the second half, we made some adjustments and they worked well. Worland is a team we have the ability to beat, but we have to be able to convert our chances into goals. We can’t make the same mistakes.”
Though it’s spring break for PHS this week, Gilliatt said the players who are in town will practice every day. Saturday brings a rematch on the road with cross-county rival Cody (6-4, 4-1 in 3A West), a game Gilliatt said his team is working hard for. The Panthers were missing a handful of players due to illness during the Broncs’ 2-1 win earlier this season, and the first-year coach is hoping that will be the difference in this contest.
“We’re going to get as comfortable as we can with our passing game,” he said. “We’ll focus on how to defend their style of play. We’re going to work on breaking down their defense, and just being mentally prepared. We get really hyped up for big games like this. We just have to make sure we keep our heads.”