The fresh air, bright green grass, the striking sunset; December soccer never looked more beautiful than on Monday evening, when the Buchanan Bears boys soccer team celebrated Senior Night against the Bullard Knights.
With two of the top soccer programs in the Central Valley facing off, it was bound to be a memorable match for more reasons than the weather.
Ethan Malan scored in the 41st minute and the Bears held on in the closing moments to defeat the Knights 1-0 Monday.
Buchanan survived two close shots from Bullard early in the match.
In the 10th minute, a Bullard strike sailed just wide of goal. Then, in the 14th minute, the Knights saw their shot bounce off the top post.
Buchanan largely struggled with ball control in the first half, giving up possession multiple times while in the attacking third of the field.
“In the first half, we were a little defensive and sloppy with our passes,” Buchanan coach Drew Walters said.
The Bears’ defense made up for offensive shortcomings by denying the Knights on several scoring chances. Bears goalkeeper Michael Garcia made three saves in the final minutes of the first half.
Malan broke the scoreless draw in the first minute of the second half. The junior slid a shot past Bullard’s 6-foot-6-inch goalkeeper Jack Blickenstaff to put Buchanan on the scoreboard.
Malan wasn’t intimidated by Blickenstaff’s height. Instead, he realized to make an adjustment.
“[The team] was just trying to aim for the low corners because of [Blickenstaff’s] height,” Malan said. “It felt pretty good [scoring], because I was playing this game for the seniors.”
Buchanan controlled the ball much better in the second half, keeping possession for long portions of the second half. Walters cited renewed focus as the key adjustment at halftime.
“The change [at halftime] was playing a little crisper,” Walters said. “[The coaches] really harp in training on quality first touch and passing. Once we let the ball do the work, then the game comes together.”
Buchanan had three more shots on goal in the second half, but Blickenstaff held strong and saved each one.
The match grew in intensity as Bullard put up a late fight with two shots in the final three minutes – but a clutch save by Garcia and timely defense sealed Buchanan’s victory.
Walters praised the team defense in the Bears’ final stand.
“Defenders and our goalkeeper Michael [Garcia] have been fantastic for us all season,” Walters pointed out. “Composure, mentality, concentration and commitment… that sums up our defensive work, especially in the final moments.”
With the win, Buchanan improves to 8-3-5 on the season. The Bears have the next three days off before they play San Joaquin Memorial (6-2-2) Friday afternoon.