SPRING HILL — Though there were about 15 players between them, this was a one-on-battle and everyone knew it. Twenty-five yards from goal, Bishop McLaughlin midfielder Alex Stafford lined up the chance to break a scoreless deadlock with six minutes left.
Cambridge sophomore goalkeeper Anthony Patton, who had kept the undefeated 'Canes off the board Friday, had to come up bigger than he had all afternoon.
"Set my feet, be ready, make the save," Patton thought. Easier said than done against 24-goal scorer Stafford, but Patton got it done. Stafford's rocket free kick over the Lancers wall forced Patton to dive awkwardly, but he made the stop to preserve a 0-0 tie.
Patton made another highlight-reel leap in the first half to deny Marcus Valancius. So he can be forgiven for feeling like a winner in a game that had none.
"A tie is as good as a win," Patton said of Bishop McLaughlin, which had won 10 straight. The 'Canes defeated Cambridge 3-1 earlier this season.
This time the Lancers (11-4-1) controlled the action for a bulk of the first half, and did well in the second to keep Bishop McLaughlin from being able to sustain much.
In between, the 'Canes had every shot at scoring. They outshot Cambridge 7-0 over a stretch that saw Stafford on the verge of goal three times, only to miss. Stafford once collected a rebound of Carlos Quan's shot but popped it 10 yards wide.
"I don't know what was going on. I just couldn't get good touch on the ball," he said.
Stafford expressed some level of happiness, saying the 'Canes (11-0-2) needed a competitive, physical battle. They'd scored at least five goals in each of their previous six games.
Cambridge had two shots of note in the second half, neither requiring Jason Kass to make a save. The best chance came when a free kick cleared the defense and settled at the feet of Luke Gilcrease on the doorstep, but he had trouble corraling it and had it knocked away.
The Lancer defense (Hunter White, Grant Kelly, Josh Paskett, Josh Walcott) was solid and got help from a mixture of midfielders who man-marked Stafford. Ramiro Mendoza also had a smooth game in the midfield, often getting the ball away from oncoming 'Canes in tight space.
Bishop McLaughlin forward Eric Pitton had two quality shots stopped. And Chris Wesdock sent Pitton in on goal in the final minutes but drew a yellow card on the Canes' 14th foul of the game.
The draw settled Cambridge into the No. 3 seed in Class A, District 5. Bishop McLaughlin's Jan. 9 game against Carrollwood Day will decide the top spot.