CLINTON — Matt Hagge wasted no time letting his players know a tie was just fine.
“You just tied the No. 7 team in 1A,” he said as his Clinton boys soccer team huddled around him after a 1-1 game with West Liberty on a cold, damp Thursday night at the Ashford field. “You should be very proud of yourself.”
He certainly was.
“I’m pretty excited,” Hagge said. “That’s the best defensive effort I’ve seen all season. The guys are coming together. We have been switching guys around, and I think we figured out where guys need to be.”
The defensive players were where they needed to be for the most part, and when they weren’t, Paolo Marilim was. Marilim, a senior goalkeeper, made eight saves, most in the second half when the Comets had the stiff wind at their backs.
“I have to thank the defense,” Marilim said. “Without them, I can’t do most of the things I do. It was really a defensive effort tonight.”
The River Kings (2-3-1) held West Liberty (1-1-2) scoreless for more than 60 minutes after Rafael Ibarra tied the game late in the 16th minute with his third goal of the season. That was no easy task against the quick-footed and speedy duo of Ibarra and Raudel Fierro at the front of the West Liberty offense.
“I’m pacing up and down the sidelines, almost ready to have a heart attack,” Hagge said of the feeling he had when Ibarra and Fierro were on the attack.”
Ibarra, who scored his goal when he got between the defense and Marilim on the right side, had a similar chance early in the second half. Fierro deftly handled the ball around the penalty box arc, then passed to Ibarra on the right side of the penalty box. Ibarra took a shot, but Marilim blocked it out of bounds.
About 13 minutes later, Ibarra attacked from the left side and had a one-on-one opportunity against Marilim but pushed his shot wide in front of the goal.
“I tried to come up on him and stop the angle,” Marilim explained. “If I stay back, he’s got too much time to shoot. I had a really good game; most of those were just luck.”
In the 73rd minute, Ricky Gallegos had a breakaway opportunity for the Comets. This time, though, Clinton’s defense got back to help Marilim, who made a block save. The defense came up big a couple more times in the final minutes. Marilim made a save off a corner kick about a minutes later, then another, with help from his defense, on a rush by Ibarra late in the 78th minute.
“He was phenomenal,” Hagge said of Marilim. “Travis Mink and Brandon Burkhart on defense were great. They took turns on (Fierro).”
Clinton finished with eight shots on goal, most in the first half. Marc Obren scored the Kings’ lone goal. It came in the 10th minute, when John Gunderson had the ball in the penalty box and found Obren open at the top of the box, about 20 yards out. Obren’s shot hit the right post and went past West Liberty goalkeeper Bryan DeBock and into the goal.
“John gave me a great pass at the top of the penalty box,” Obren said. “Their defense was really staying in the box, so I was wide open from the top of the box.”
It was Obren’s first goal of the year, and the second assist for Gunderson, who leads Clinton with four goals.
Hagge said scoring early was important for the Kings.
“We knew that the wind always is a factor on Ashford’s field, and we’ve played well early and had trouble finishing, so we wanted the wind (at the start),” he said.
“We knew we had to get a goal in that first half with the wind,” Obren said.
“It was a confidence builder,” Hagge said of the goal.
The tie came two days after Clinton lost 9-0 to Muscatine, a team that beat West Liberty 3-1 earlier in the year.
“I feel like everyone in the Muscatine game had an off night,” Obren said. “We played (West Liberty) last season and didn’t do real well. We wanted to show them how much improvement we made over last year.”
Hagge said the win should show the River Kings something, too.
“I’m really proud of the effort,” he said. “I think big things are on the horizon for us.”
Photo gallery View more photos from Thursday's soccer game at clintonherald.smugmug.com