Mead’s Justin Richardson had one thought as the ball landed at his feet in front of the Gonzaga Prep goal Wednesday afternoon.
He didn’t, pushing the ball past goalkeeper Kalil Taylor for an insurance goal that helped the Panthers take a big 2-0 Greater Spokane League soccer win over the visiting Bullpups.
It was the kind of play Mead rarely made last year. It began in the 41st minute with a long free kick from Jared Kutsch that landed in the penalty box. A deft flick from Peter Weller landed at the feet of Richardson, who’d eluded his defender.
“That’s been the real difference from last season to this season,” said Richardson, a junior forward. “We have a commitment to work on every single ball and making sure that we don’t let anything get past us.”
The payoff: With three matches left, Mead (5-1 in the GSL, 7-5 overall) remained in a virtual first-place tie in the GSL standings. Prep fell to 4-2 and 8-2, respectively.
The difference in this Senior Night match was hustle, which led to Mead winning most of the 50-50 balls on a warm afternoon.
“I think we started it last week,” said Mead coach Kevin Houston, referring to wins over Mt. Spokane and defending GSL champ Central Valley. “We knew we were the ones who needed to be aggressive, work as hard as we could and work as a team.”
Still, Prep got the first big chance of the game, but forward Dillon Vandiver found only the crossbar with his shot from 20 yards out. A few minutes later, a throw-in led to a header from Weller which gave Mead a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute.
That too was important for a team that’s had to come from behind too often this year. “We struggled giving up goals in the beginning (of the season), then having to chase the lead,” Houston said.
Even with a 2-0 lead, Mead kept up the attack. Prep’s best chance came midway through the second half on a long free kick. Mead keeper Andrew Huffman mistimed his jump and allowed the ball to pass over his hands and into the net, but the goal was nullified by an offside penalty.
Huffman preserved the shutout with two big saves, including a dash to his right to take the ball from a G-Prep attacker.
“The shutout means a lot,” said Huffman, noting that Mead fell to G-Prep 1-0 in a nonleague game last month. He also credited the Panthers’ work ethic, which he says “includes everyone coming off the bench.”