Finally given a chance to compose himself, Caleb Blair made scoring look easy.
The McFarland senior capped the Spartans’ 3-0 win over Evansville on Thursday when he drilled a 30-yard free kick into the top-right corner of the net in the 90th minute.
Blair, the reigning Rock Valley Conference player of the year, was marked and watched closely by a determined Blue Devils side for more than 89 minutes. Afforded a 10-yard cushion between him and the nearest defender, he made the most of his final scoring chance.
“The third goal, you’ve got to tip your hat to Caleb,” Evansville coach Kendall Buttchen said. “Great players are going to hit that shot. It was an almost indefensible shot.”
Blair’s brilliant free kick was one of just a few shots Mason Huff couldn’t stop Thursday.
Evansville’s junior keeper made 10 saves in the loss, which dropped the Blue Devils (3-6-1 overall) to 0-2-0 in conference play.
McFarland (6-2-0, 2-0-0 RVC) remains favored to finish atop the league.
The Spartans focused on taking away the Blue Devils’ top offensive weapon, sophomore Jackson Stencel, who entered Thursday’s match with a team-leading 13 goals.
Stencel still made things difficult for McFarland’s defenders. He was denied by the crossbar in the 49th minute after his free kick from about 24 yards made it over a five-man wall. Eight minutes later, he sent a pass across the goal mouth to Owen Scarpaci, whose point-blank shot was deflected away by the quick reflexes of keeper Matt Schutt.
“We knew we would need to pay special attention to him,” McFarland coach Brett Ogorzalek said of Stencel. “He put us in a number of difficult situations.
“I feel like we defended well. We recovered well in transition.”
The largely pro-Evansville crowd celebrating youth soccer night was quieted in the seventh minute, when Blair fed Ethan Nichols, who used the outside of his right boot to flick a shot over Huff.
The Blue Devils frustrated the Spartans the rest of the half. A dipping strike from Nichols forced a superb save in the 23rd minute from Huff, who leaped to tip the ball over the crossbar. Just before halftime, left back Keegan Olin broke up a scoring chance for Ethan Larson with a sliding challenge.
Evansville stunned McFarland 1-0 in a sectional semifinal last October to come within a win of the state tournament. The Blue Devils have started slowly in 2018, but there should be plenty to build from after a hard-fought loss to the state-ranked Spartans.
“We’re nowhere close to where we want to be, but we’re better off today than we were at the beginning of the season and even last week,” Buttchen said. “The results are not there, but we know the results will come if our play continues to improve.”
Vince Seils doubled McFarland’s lead in the 58th minute, when he buried a shot inside the left post. The Spartans out-shot the Blue Devils 25-7 (13-5 on goal).
McFarland hosts Monona Grove on Saturday before returning to league play Monday at Jefferson. Evansville travels to Whitewater on Monday.
MCFARLAND 3, EVANSVILLE 0
McFarland 1 2—3
Evansville 0 0—0
M—Ethan Nichols (Caleb Blair), 6:55.
M—Vince Seils, 57:55. M—Blair, 89:32.
Saves—Mason Huff (E) 10, Matt Schutt (M) 5. Shots—Evansville 7, McFarland 25. Shots on goal—Evansville 5, McFarland 13. Corners—Evansville 0, McFarland 6. Offsides—Evansville 1, McFarland 1. Fouls—Evansville 3, McFarland 15.