TRINITY - Mitchell may not have been playing the same, old dominant Countryside that has reigned over Class 6A-District 7 in recent years. But Tuesday's 1-0 win may have ushered in a new era for the Mustangs, and the district.
Steve Schultz's goal in the 67th minute got Mitchell (8-2-1, 1-1-1) right in the thick of the district race for the first time in three years. With only two games remaining, against St. Petersburg on Friday and Gaither on Tuesday, the Mustangs have a chance to gain one of the top seeds in the tournament, which won't take place until the week of Jan. 21.
"We're still young, we're still growing, but it's a good, quality win," said Mitchell coach Oscar Ubillus. "We were pressuring them and getting more chances than them."
The goal, which came following a 25-yard free kick by Franco Otiniano and a shot by another Mitchell player that glanced off Countryside goalkeeper Greg Crowell, was Schultz's second of the year.
"It felt good because we lost to this team last year and it's been on my mind ever since," Schultz said. "It was a big relief because we were working the whole game, and to finally put one away and hold them off, it felt good."
There was some controversy following the goal, as one referee immediately called offside while a linesman said it was good. After a brief discussion, the offside was waived off, much to the dismay of Crowell and Countryside coach David Sica.
Ubillus had no comment on the call, and said he didn't see the play well enough to know for sure if it was correct.
Nonetheless, the Mustangs won the game, thanks in large part to a stellar defensive effort. The Cougars had no scoring chances in the first half, and didn't even manage a corner kick until the 63rd minute.
The defense was far different than on Monday night against Ridgewood, coming from behind to win 7-5. Maybe it is a sign of focus and consistency from the Mustangs, who will need similar efforts Friday and Tuesday.
"It's better than what we've been playing," Ubillus said.
GIRLS LOSE TO COUGARS: The Mitchell girls (7-2-1, 1-2) lost 1-0 to Countryside in the first match Tuesday at Mustang Stadium.
The Mustangs looked sluggish in the first half as the Cougars controlled possession and field position. Despite several quality stops by Mitchell goalkeeper Laura Seletos, Countryside's Deanna Huffman scored in the 28th minute for the match's only goal.
"I think we came out a little bit flat - first 20 minutes," Mitchell coach Karl Kukec said. "We made some adjustments, we picked it up and we put some pressure on, but Countryside is a real good team."
The Mustangs played an attack-oriented style in the second half, which produced five shots (three on goal) in a three-minute span after halftime. But all were stopped. Two late free kicks by Arielle Anahory from just outside the 18-yard box missed their marks.
The loss puts Mitchell in jeopardy of getting a low seed in the district tournament, but there are still two district games remaining.
"What we wanted to accomplish is to get the first or second seed in the district tournament. That would mean we'd definitely have to win the remaining two games," Kukec said. "But there's not one team that's running away with the district so it's probably coming down all the way to the last game."
Bart O'Connell can be reached at