Shutout saves team's offensive struggles

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What a perfect time for a shutout.

While the Moffat County boys soccer team's offense tried to knock the Palisade goal over with four shots off the cross bar, the defense kept Palisade out of the net in a 1-0 victory.

"It wasn't our best performance on offense," coach Jeff Hammond said. "But our midfield and defense really stepped it up in the second half."

The first half was scoreless, but the Bulldogs from Palisade out-shot Moffat by seven. For most of the half, Palisade controlled the midfield and kept the ball on the Moffat half of the field. Several missed opportunities by the Palisade attack and three leaping saves by Moffat goalie Malcolm Hillewaert kept the visitors out of the goal.

Even after giving up no goals in the first half, Hammond wasn't happy.

"I thought our midfield played very sluggish the first half," he said. "It may have been our worst half of the season."

Hammond's talk invigorated the home-field Bulldogs and they started out the second half immediately with more energy.

In the first five minutes, Moffat created more chances at goal than they had for all of the first half.

Moffat senior Pepe Loya finally broke through in the seventh minute. He scored his Western Slope League-leading 10th goal by dribbling past three defenders at the top of the goalie box and then firing a shot past Palisade keeper Chris Martin. The shot was partially blocked by Martin but the momentum of the ball kept it rolling into the goal.

Moffat kept making scoring opportunities but was unable to provide an insurance goal. Several of those opportunities were at 30 minutes into the half when senior Nate Berner hit the inside of the post, and a follow-up header by Loya inched over the goal.

Loya also hit the cross bar two minutes after his goal. In the final five minutes of the game, Eric Montes made the cross bar sing again with a hard shot off of it.

"Those are shots that have dropped for us in our previous games," Hammond said. "But we were fortunate that nothing dropped for Palisade either.

The maroon Bulldogs had two close opportunities in the final five minutes. One kick was saved by Hillewaert with a kick-save move that looked more like something he would do when he's in the hockey net. In the final minute, Palisade's Cody Wallace took a spinning shot from about 20 yards out, and Hillewaert knocked it down.

The Palisade team was in silent shock after the loss.

"Coming in, this was one we thought we should win," assistant coach Renzo DelPiccolo said. "Maybe that went to our head a little bit, and we didn't play as hard as we can."

DelPiccolo said his Bulldogs have had trouble scoring lately. The numbers show the same. Palisade has been outscored 13-0 in its past four games.

Berner and senior Schuyler Hammond were proud of the young guys around them.

"All of the younger guys stepped it up," Schuyler said. "It was an inspired effort the second half."

Berner thought the effort in the second half was the difference-maker.

"In our losses we let down in the second half," he said. "We didn't do that today."

The win improved Moffat County to 2-2 in WSL play and 2-3 for the season. The Bulldogs have won two straight, and they take that streak to Class 5A Fruita-Monument on Thursday.

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