MOLINE — Geneseo’s first official conference win as a member of the Western Big Six didn’t come easy.
Playing in the boys soccer season opener for both teams, the Maple Leafs topped Moline 2-1 at the Moline Soccer Bowl on Tuesday night.
While the challenge of starting your season with a conference game was not ideal, Geneseo rose above it behind strong keeper play and goals from a pair of cousins.
The Maple Leafs’ goalkeeper Zack Bauer had a number of impressive saves in his team’s win, finishing with seven. The senior was excited to start the year with a win, especially after his team started last year 0-5.
“Let alone winning in a new conference, it feels great,” said Bauer. “We knew Moline would be hard, and we brought it. We haven’t had a couple good days of practice, but today we communicated, we talked, and everything went (well) for our team. We just pulled together.”
The game was scoreless until the 35th minute, when Geneseo forward Ethan Holke gathered a deflected shot and scored in traffic. He assisted his cousin and fellow junior Nate Clark-Holke in the 51st minute to make Geneseo’s advantage 2-0.
Bauer credited his defense in the win. The only ball that got by him was a penalty kick score from Moline in the 63rd minute. But Moline’s momentum at that point was not enough to convert a goal down the stretch.
Moline coach Rick Sanchez said starting the year in conference is a challenge, but said his team, which started three seniors, did some good things.
“At times we showed some inexperience, but overall, I was happy,” he said. “We just need to get more game experience to be able to play more consistently throughout the game.”
Geneseo coach Harvey Morton said his players are still finding their roles and learning to play together.
“These games are always hard-fought,” Morton added. “It is difficult to come out your first game.”
Tuesday’s officials were also challenged as Geneseo totaled 20 fouls and Moline had 12. Geneseo had two yellow cards and Moline had one.
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Morton was pleased his team was able to start the year 1-0.
“It puts you in a hole if you aren’t ready, and we’ve been preaching to the guys these last few days, to be fundamentally sound and to challenge,” Morton said. “It got away from us a little in the second half, the pressure’s there, but a win’s a win. I’m very happy for the boys.”
Morton also credited Bauer’s strength in net as Moline totaled 11 shots, eight on goal.
“He stays in the game and keeps his head into it. He had an excellent game,” Morton said.
The keeper welcomed the challenge of starting the year with an intense conference match.
“I think it feels great,” Bauer said. “It’s like an awakener.”
Sanchez hopes the goals come easier with experience.
“Even in the first half, we had a couple quality looks on frame. Their keeper came up with a couple nice saves,” Sanchez said. “In the second half, we were putting some offensive opportunities together and we weren’t able to capitalize on them.”
The coach did not comment on Tuesday’s officiating, but was clearly visibly frustrated throughout the game and during the halftime break.
“Two quality teams; they both worked hard,” Sanchez said. “These conference rivalry-type local games, you’re battling. And that’s a piece that we need to learn.”
Geneseo drove home with the benefit of learning in a win after converting a pair of its six shots on goal.
“It’s the first game, you just have to play within yourself,” Morton said. “Being the first game with this level of play, you’ve got to expect some of that hard play. But we have to learn from it, definitely.”