By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
Just do it again.
There’s nothing easy about the Crosstown Clash, boys soccer edition, be it the regular season or the playoffs. And there’s really nothing easy about it for Norman High.
Every game is close.
Every game is hard fought.
When NHS finally beat Norman North for the first time since 2007 back on March 12, it wasn’t just the Tigers’ first victory over the Timberwolves in six years, but their first victory over their arch-rivals in nine meetings, for NHS and North have also become semi-regular playoff opponents, too.
There are advantages in having won the first one.
“We know we can do it,” NHS’ Matt Tidwell said.
Then, there may be advantages in having not won the first one, too.
“That’s just extra motivation that we’ll take,” North coach Geo Claros said.
NHS coach Gordon Drummond doesn’t look at tonight very differently than he has looked at trying to beat North for more than a decade.
“First of all, it’s going to depend on how we play defense against a team that is offensively loaded,” he said. “Secondly, we have to not simply counter, but be able to possess the ball in the midfield and from there take it into the attack zone. We can’t rely on hitting the ball upfield and hoping something good is going to happen.”
For the Tigers to win again, they’re going to have to beat a much-improved bunch of Timberwolves.
All of North’s losses have come in shootouts and none of them have come since the team arrived home from a three-game trip to the Southern Soccer Shootout in Huntsville, Ala.
“Ever since we’ve come back,” senior North defender Ashton Bray said, “we’re a closer team and everything’s come together on the field.”
Since returning from Alabama, North’s game scores have been 4-0, 6-2, 4-0, 5-0, 5-2, 4-0 and 4-1.
NHS has gone 6-1 over the same stretch, though two of the Tigers’ wins, against Yukon and Southmoore, have been 2-1 overtime victories, and another, against Putnam City North, a 2-1 shootout victory.
Bray believes North has simply become a more precise team, no longer giving back the chances it creates. That, and junior midfielder Mauro Cichero, sitting on 19 goals, has caught fire.
“We had a lot of things going, just the execution was not there,” Bray said. “I don’t know what got into us, but the execution started coming and Mauro started scoring and it came together.”
NHS can make a bit of a case it’s come on of late, too.
For all the shootouts and one-goal victories — nine in all — the last three games have been different. The Tigers have crushed Lawton Ike 7-0, beaten third-ranked Edmond Santa Fe 2-0 and, against Bishop McGuinness the first night of the playoffs, dominated every member of the Fighting Irish but goalkeeper David Brown in a 1-0 victory.
Drummond is promising nothing special against the new and improved T-Wolves. His team will play its game, with a focus on defense, but without selling out to stop any one player.
“I think it’s a mistake to focus on one player,” he said, “even as good as Mauro … and I think he’s the best player in the state. He’s the total package.”
North is relishing the rematch.
“We have a chance to clean our slate for the year,” Bray said, “and move on in the playoffs.”
And everybody gets to come out for one more Crosstown Clash.
Follow me @clayhorning