McConnell’s first goal nets victory for South Range
McConnell scores first varsity goal
By Greg Gulas
The South Range Raiders were Division III regional semi-finalists a season ago, returning nine letter-winners to a team this year that has since moved up to the Division II ranks.
With five of those returnees injured and sidelined for Tuesday’s season opener against All-American Conference foe Poland, head coach Mike Bailey pulled freshman Luke McConnell aside during Monday’s practice to inform him that he would be making his first varsity start against the Bulldogs.
A restless night’s sleep turned into an auspicious debut for McConnell, scoring the first goal of the game and combining with Brandon Youngs to lead the Raiders to a 2-0 win over Poland at their new Raiders Stadium in the Rominger’s Sports Complex.
His goal came at 19:39 of the opening half and helped stake the Raiders to a 1-0 halftime advantage.
“I had butterflies, yet was excited when coach Bailey informed me that I would be starting,” McConnell said. “The ball rebounded out of the box and the first time that I hit it, the ball bounced off a defender. It then bounced back to me and I hit it once again, only this time the goalie was out of position and it found its way to the back of the net. It’s a really exciting feeling when you score your first varsity goal.”
Poland (1-1) came into the game having already defeated Champion (3-0) on Saturday, getting off over 40 shots against the Golden Flashes.
Tuesday’s defensive battle found the Raiders without a shot until Logan Baer’s attempt nearly 18 minutes into the contest, but a stingy Raiders defense held Poland in check until Jake Bacon’s boot at the 12:03 mark of the opening frame.
Bailey couldn’t help but smile at McConnell’s debut.
“Luke would not have started the game, but injuries gave him the opportunity and he really responded,” Bailey added. “He has foot skills and a high IQ for soccer as a freshman. His bother Mitch is our sweeper and captain, and he comes from a strong soccer family. He really stepped up for us tonight.”
Youngs is an all-around athlete for the Raiders and someone to keep an eye on, not only in the fall but throughout the school year as he also performs the punting and kicking duties for Dan Yeagley’s football team, then plays both basketball and baseball as well.
With 10 letters already earned, he’s on course to rake in another four and is expected to graduate with 14 overall.
His goal at 16:51 of the second half made it 2-0 and created the distance that Bailey was hoping for.
“Logan Weaver had the ball and split the defense perfectly,” Youngs noted. “I ran over to it, rolled it past the keeper and saw the defense get back into position. That’s when I ripped the shot as hard as I could for the goal.
“It’s great to get that first win of the season because it builds much needed momentum. We’ve gone form Division III to Division II this year, and I think a win like this shows everyone that we’re here and ready to play.”
Bailey called Youngs one of the very best ever Raiders student-athletes.
“You don’t see too many Brandon’s, that’s for sure,” Bailey said. “He’s one of those rare student-athletes who has strength, speed, intelligence and excels in the classroom as well.”
The Raiders had 18 shots overall and 11 on goal as South Range goalie Kaden Shehan rejected five Bulldogs shots (they registered 13 shots overall) to earn his first shutout of the campaign.
Rhys Jones was stellar in goal as well, registering nine saves for the Bulldogs.