ST. PAULS — It was a tale of two halves for the St. Pauls High School boys soccer team Wednesday against West Bladen.
Both teams had multiple scoring opportunities throughout the game, with the Bulldogs (0-0-1) being the aggressor in the first half and Knights (1-0-1) turning the tables in the second.
The result was a 1-1 draw.
“I felt like we had some good moments,” said St. Pauls coach Brent Martin. “If anything, (West Bladen) looked more fit than we did.”
It was the first match of the season for the Bulldogs, who struck first after Ricardo Flores fired a shot into the back of the net on a rebound with five minutes left in the first half, giving them a 1-0 lead at home.
Not only was it the first goal of the season for the Bulldogs, but a first for Flores as a varsity soccer player.
“Ric is a new guy,” Martin said. “He needed some time to grow (last season). He’s matured a little and now he’s more prepared.”
The score would hold until midway through the second half. The Knights got the equalizer with 26 minutes remaining before the game was called due to bad weather.
“They outworked us (in the second half),” Martin said.
“That’s something we need to work on. Fans come to the game to see who wins and who loses, I’m watching to see how I can help my guys get better.”
Junior Eric Baltazar kept the Knights at bay for most of the game, blocking away multiple attempts on goal.
Because of the aggressive nature of St. Pauls’ defense, Baltazar was left on an island in multiple situations. How he handled those situations impressed Martin.
“We left a lot of space behind (on defense),” he said. “Eric is a great keeper. When we set that line so high it really exposes him, but he does a nice job.”
As the Bulldogs look ahead at the season as a whole, Martin is hopeful the team can build from a 7-6 finish last season.
“It’s going to be tough because we lost some good players,” said Martin, whose team finished fourth in the Three Rivers Conference last season.
“I feel like we should do better than 7-6. We’re going to see what we can do with Whiteville this year. We really want to push them. We want to be in the top two.”
Martin is looking for Erik Perez, Victor Garcia and Anthony Espinosa to help the team take that next step.
“Those guys are our captains,” he said. “I can’t say enough about Erik … and Victor is a very mature young man for his age. But I’m proud of all the guys. They give me everything they’ve got.”
The Bulldogs will be back on the pitch tonight when they travel to East Bladen for a 6 p.m. match.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.