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South responds to challenge, ties top-ranked Sheldon, 0-0

South Medford boys soccer coach Dave Potter was beaming after his Panthers played top-ranked Sheldon of Eugene to a scoreless tie Friday at Fichtner-Mainwaring Park.

Potter was thrilled with the opportunity to play the co-defending state champion. Potter was excited to see a large, enthusiastic crowd. And most significantly, Potter was proud of the Panthers' performance.

This was a dream come true, said Potter. We get one opportunity a year to play a team of that quality, especially on our home field. It was wonderful to look over and see a horde of people.

The tie was the first blemish on second-ranked South's record after reeling off five straight victories.

— The Irish, who returned seven starters off last year's championship team, had beaten three opponents by a combined 13-0 total before falling to Crescent Valley, 2-1, Wednesday.

Prior to the game, Potter looked into his players' eyes and sensed the willingness to accept the challenge.

We played the gut-check soccer we had to play against this team, said Potter.

Sheldon held an upper hand through the first 30 minutes. The Irish used a coordinated passing attack to keep much of the action in the South Medford zone.

Sheldon's Matt Williams had the best early scoring chance. After an Irish header went over the net off a corner kick, Potter chided his team about leaving two players unmarked in the box.

We're living dangerously, gentlemen, shouted Potter.

Sheldon's best opportunity came about 12 minutes into the game when third-team all-state senior striker Loren Hill clanged a booming shot from about 15 yards off the top of the cross bar.

But Hill's opportunities were neutralized most of the contest through a tenacious effort by South senior fullback Eric Rubey.

Eric found himself challenged like he was never before, said Potter. The first half was a fast learning curve for Eric. In the second half, he picked up more ability to pressure Hill and denied him the turn and the penetrating passes.

In the latter part of the opening period and beginning of the second half, the Panthers seemed to find their rhythm. South began taking the action to Sheldon.

Senior midfielder Josh Williams, who suffered a concussion late in the game on a collision trying to head the ball, had two threatening scoring chances early in the second half.

A Williams' header went wide off a cross from Chris Swartsley. Then he received a pass after making a diagonal run through the Irish defense and his shot went wide past the far post.

(Williams) was willing to play from the 18 to the 18 and from touch line to touch line, said Potter. He's a player who has game.

Junior midfielder Bryan Waggener had South's most dangerous scoring opportunity, but his attempt from close in went wide of the net.

Mikey Belzberg didn't face many difficulties in goal for South, but the junior keeper came up big with a diving save on Hill's header off Steven Palmer's cross late in the game.

I saw he was open, said Belzberg, describing the play. He went to my right, and I anticipated well. That's why I was there so fast.

Belzberg credited Spencer Hunter with being a factor in South's defensive end. And Potter supported that notion.

Spencer Hunter is the creator for everything that happens in front, said Potter. He sees the game so well.

Not only was Hunter a stalwart near the Panthers' net, he also fueled the offense with his booming kicks.

Hunter acknowledged defending against the Irish attack was difficult.

They're definitely experienced and know how to play well together, said Hunter. What stands out is the way we came back after getting dominated in the first half.

That's what Potter liked the best, too.

The guys showed they had the heart and the will, he said. They played with spirit.

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 776-4480, or e-mail