RANDOLPH - It's been quite a long time since the Randolph Cardinals soccer team has allowed a goal this season. So long, in fact, they may be forgetting what it feels like.
In the midst of an 10-game winning streak heading into their Thursday afternoon matchup against visiting Cattaraugus-Little Valley, the Cardinals kept that scoreless run alive, blanking the Timberwolves in a 4-0 Division 2 victory.
Randolph, now winners of 11 straight, of which seven in a row have come by shutout, haven't felt the sting that comes with surrendering a goal in more than 580 minutes.
Randolph’s Jacob Turner, left, fires a shot on goal as Cattaraugus-Little Valley’s Payton Washburn closes in. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
"We decided early on with our four in the back that we weren't going to stray away from playing (tough defense)," Randolph coach Dave Levandowski said of his squad's picture perfect play over the last three weeks of the season. "We have so much talent and really wanted to coach our guys to play defense the way they're supposed to. Early in the year we made a couple mistakes, but we've been working on it ever since and it's been a huge focus of ours."
The last time Randolph, and goaltender Nick Carpenter, allowed a goal was in a 4-3 victory over Portville on Sept. 13.
In their victory over Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Carpenter, who now has eight shutouts this season, was called upon to make just five saves, but they were, Levandowski noted, some of the better shots he's faced in some time.
"This was actually one of the first games that (our opponent) has had some good shots," he said. "Nick made a couple of really nice saves in the second half."
While the defense and goaltending have been strong in and of itself, there's no denying that the back line has been aided by the squad's ability to possess the ball and attack in the offensive end.
During its winning streak, Randolph has averaged over three goals per game, and in this one it was more of the same.
After Zach Jackson nearly scored just 30 seconds into the match, Randolph continued to keep the pressure with its "two-touch" approach on offense - that is, no more than two touches on the ball before a pass is required. It was that kind of quick, precise passing that led to each of their scoring opportunities.
The first came at 20 minutes, when, after a Randolph player was fouled, Taylor Miller lofted an indirect kick into the area and Jackson got enough of his foot on the ball to sneak it by the Timberwolves' netminder. Ten minutes later Jackson Andrews increased the advantage to a pair of goals when he fired a low shot at the near post that skipped through the goalkeeper's grasp.
Over the first 40 minutes of play, Cattaraugus-Little Valley managed just one shot on goal. Randolph, meanwhile, had eight.
"We've got a lot of individual skill on the team and we've been working all year to try and mold it together into an 11-man game," Levandowski said. "They did a really nice job of controlling the tempo (today)."
Despite the first-half goals, Levandowski wasn't especially pleased with his team's play in the opening half, and was much more impressed with its effort in the second.
"The first half was a little rough," he said, "but we discussed it at halftime and decided we were going to do the things we work on: two-touch soccer, moving off the ball and communicating. I thought they did a really nice job of that (over the last 40 minutes)."
Mathew Born, a "new addition" to the Cardinals this year from Maryland, netted the third goal of the game, and his 10th of the season, in the 45th minute, and then he fed teammate Dustin Botzenmayer with a pass that led to the final score at the 63rd minute.
Randolph, now 12-1-0 overall and a perfect 9-0 in league, holds a two-game advantage in the standings over Allegany-Limestone (7-2), which on Thursday were 2-0 victors over Salamanca. With games remaining against Silver Creek (3-5-1), Salamanca (5-3) and Cassadaga Valley (0-8), a Cardinals' win and an Allegany-Limestone loss, or two Cardinals' victories, and Randolph will capture the league title outright.
"We're just taking it one game at a time and trying not to think about it," Levandowski said. "We're not going to let down. We're going to keep working hard and hopefully carry some momentum into the playoffs."