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The Pacers race out to a 3-0 lead and hold on to win their second straight contest.

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Lakeridge sophomore Rafael Loyo celebrates after scoring the first goal in his team's 3-1 win at Mountainside on Thursday, Sept. 2.There's never a bad time to make a good first impression.

Just ask the Lakeridge boys soccer team.

The Pacers, playing at Mountainside High School in their second non-league game of the 2021 season on Thursday, Sept. 2, scored just six minutes into their match against the Mavericks and built on that fast start to forge their 3-1 victory.

"We're doing great. Our team chemistry is really coming together," said Lakeridge junior forward Zachary Levin, who scored his team's second and third goals against Mountainside. "I feel like we're really bonding as a team this year."

"I feel like we didn't really carry over the composure that we had (in) … the first half in the second, but I think we did well enough in the first to make up for some of the shortcomings that we had in the second half," said Pacer junior defender Christian Waarvick, whose defense allowed just one goal on Thursday.

With the victory, Lakeridge won for the second straight time and improved to 2-0 in non-league action. Mountainside, meanwhile, lost for the first time and fell to 1-1 overall.

"We got off to a rough start in the first half, but … I think that over the season and over the (coming) games, we can definitely work our way into being a good team," said Mountainside senior midfielder Ryan Mehlschau, who scored his team's lone goal.

"I think the first half, once we got down one, our heads just kind of started to bow. We just kind of gave in," added Maverick senior midfielder Ben Leeds.

Lakeridge 3, Mountainside 1

Mountainside very nearly took a one-goal lead just three minutes into the match when Mehlschau missed left on an early one-on-one against Lakeridge junior goalkeeper Benjamin Haverkamp. Instead, Pacer sophomore Jacob Real made a steal in the Mavericks' penalty box three minutes later, and after his shot was deflected, sophomore teammate Rafael Loyo collected the rebound and scored in the corner of the Maverick goal with 34:04 remaining in the half.

Mountainside tried to counter with shots by both Mehlschau and Leeds in the next seven minutes, but after those failed to connect, Waarvick sent a long pass to Levin in the right side of the Mavericks' penalty box. From there, Levin took one touch to get past charging Mountainside senior keeper Drew Patnode and hit a sliding kick to the right corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead with 25:44 to go in the half.

Things got worse for the Mavericks before they got better, too. Five minutes later, Levin collected a loose ball 12 yards out of the Mountainside goal, turned and took a shot off Patnode that rebounded away and trickled into the left edge of the goal for a 3-0 lead with 21:05 left before the half.

To their great credit, however, the Mavericks did not pack it up and slink away. Instead, they survived a trio of Pacer attacks late in the half, then managed to close within 3-1 at the end of the period.

That lone Mountainside goal came after Lakeridge was whistled for a foul and Mehlschau lined up for a free kick from the right side of the field in the final 30 seconds of the half. As time ticked down to halftime, Mehlschau finally put the ball down on the field and — as the announcer counted down the final five seconds of the half — scored past the leaping Haverkamp to the top left corner of the goal.

"We only had like 20 seconds left and the ref was taking a really long time to move the players," Mehlschau said. "I thought I had a bit more time, but then someone screamed that there was only four seconds left. I was like, 'All right. I'm composed. Now I'm going to take the shot.'"

While neither team scored in the second half, there was still plenty of excitement in the final 40 minutes. After the two teams traded fruitless scoring chances in the first 30+ minutes of the second period, things heated up in the final 10 minutes.

First, Mountainside junior Brandon Zapp collected the ball in a crowd just 12 yards out of goal and forced Pacer senior keeper Brenden Braman to make a leaping deflection. And finally, with two minutes to go, Lakeridge sophomore Matthew Maldonado made a steal in the Mavericks' third of the field and ricocheted his attack off the right post.

"We just have guys who really like defending. We just do the job," said Waarvick, who teamed with Andrew Real, Reagan McDowell and Nicholas Wittig on the Pacers' back line. "We just make sure that we have some support for our midfielders and make sure that we can get the ball up whenever we need to."

"I think we got a little bit unlucky on the finishing side," Mehlschau said. "We probably need to work on that a little bit, but in other games, I think our finishing will be way better. We can put more points on the board."

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