Countless times the voice of Billings Central boys soccer coach DiDier Ndedi could be heard imploring his players to keep one thing in mind Tuesday night at the Laurel High School Sports Complex.
“Simple! Simple!” the first-year coach kept yelling, reminding his team to make the easy, quick pass.
The Rams did, indeed, make things look pretty easy with a 9-1 victory over Eastern A rival Laurel Locomotives behind an opportunistic attack and a hat trick from Conor Sheehy.
The boys match followed another dominating performance from the four-time Class A champion Central girls, who beat the Locomotives 4-0 for their 68th victory in their past 69 matches.
Central boys 9, Laurel 1
For the first 15 minutes the match looked like it could be a tight contest. But Kylen Laber put a ball past the high Laurel defense to Braedon Trunkle, who dribbled the ball in from about 45 yards and found the back of the net for the first score. A mere minute later, Sheehy had his first goal of the night by outworking the Laurel defense and covering about 25 yards for a 2-0 lead.
It was all Rams after that.
“We tried to play a more open game on the sides, to make (the defense) split,” Ndedi said. “If we have them split, we have space, we have room.”
The Rams (9-1-0) had plenty of that, and plenty of chances. They had 29 shots, a majority of them one-on-one situations against keeper Walter Olson, and Laber, Trunkle and Brandon Peterson each added two goals.
Central players continually made runs through the Laurel defense, including one time when Sheehy broke toward the goal and Connor McDonnel hit him on a throw-in. Sheehy raced about 40 yards and did the rest for his second goal and a 6-0 lead just before half.
Ndedi was pleased that his team listened to his mantra of keeping things simple.
“I like the way they passed the ball,” he said. “The way they were confident in their passing. This is what I wanted to give to them, that confidence of how to use the ball. When you have that, the rest is going to come easy, and they had it, and the goals came easy.”
Laurel avoided the shutout when Evan Jones curled a long kick high into the corner of the net from about 30 yards. It was the final play of the match.
Central girls 4, Laurel 0
Laurel played in a defensive shell, but it wasn't defensive enough.
Holly Davison scored twice, Maya Arce added a goal, and Sammy Elliott converted a penalty kick in a match that could have had a greater margin had not Laurel keeper Katrina Baumgartner been on her game.
Despite giving up the four goals, Baumgartner made 12 saves as the Rams put 16 shots on net. Central’s midfielders, particularly Elliott, were able to get wide and send several crosses toward the Laurel goal.
“We had a lot of good chances,” Central coach Laurie Stergar said. “We played well today. We were really looking to move the ball quickly out of the midfield and we did that.”
Hoping to limit Central’s scoring chances, the Locomotives (6-3-0) played with a lone striker up top. Conversely, that meant Laurel’s own chances would have to come from sending the ball over the top and letting Alexis Lewis chase it down.
Lewis had few opportunities to do that. The Locomotives put just one shot toward the net, and that was on a free kick from Leslie Gappa.
“These girls love offense, they love it,” Laurel coach Aloma Jess said. “That’s great. But sometimes you have to think about defense and taking care of the ball in the middle of the field, and that’s what we’ve been working on. We had few nice runs that looked promising, but Central has a good, strong defense.”
“We were on a fast field today, which truly plays to our advantage,” said Stergar, whose team moved to 10-0-0, “We like playing here. It’s a beautiful field.”