GARDINER — The answer was a simple one, though the solution proved a bit more problematic.

Senior Cam LaSalle scored a pair of goals 80 minutes apart, the second of them seven minutes into extra time, lifting the Gardiner boys soccer team to a season-opening 2-1 victory over Erskine Academy on Friday afternoon at Hoch Field.

That the Tigers needed LaSalle’s heroics at all came after a particularly deflating moment less than 14 minutes from the end of regulation time.

Gardiner senior Casey Paul rolled a would-be go-ahead penalty kick wide right in the 67th minute to keep the game knotted at 1-all.

“We knew we had to answer,” LaSalle said. “Casey is one of our best guys. He’s going to help you, no matter what. Everybody’s going to make mistakes, and we just had to pick him up.”

Adding a winner wasn’t as simple as wanting it, however.


Touched by either a bit of bad luck or poor finishing — or some combination of both — Gardiner couldn’t find a second goal over the final 20 minutes of the second half. Though they carried the play toward the finish line with some fine build-up through midfielders Paul and Alex Taylor, the Tigers had difficulty picking out the final pass for a quality chance on target.

In fact, it was Erskine who had the best chance to avoid overtime entirely, when junior Holden McKenney was left alone 25 yards from goal.

McKenney’s 79th-minute screamer was turned away at the left post with a diving, fingertip save by Tiger keeper Connor Fairservice (3 saves).

Gardiner collectively exhaled and continued on into the extra session.

Taylor’s corner kick from the right side skipped off the pile in front of Erskine goalkeeper Timber Parlin (11 saves) onto the foot of LaSalle, who buried his shot under the bar for the golden goal.

“That’s Cam LaSalle in a nutshell right there,” Gardiner coach Nick Wallace said. “He seems to be in the right place at the right time in big moments. Last year, he had two or three late winning goals. That’s just who he is — he doesn’t stop working.


“He causes chaos. That’s his job.”

“It is hard to be patient, but it’s part of the process and we’ve got to trust it,” LaSalle said. “That’s our whole thing this year, to just trust the process and work until the end.”

Nobody was more relieved to see LaSalle’s goal than Paul.

“I didn’t think I was over-thinking it in the moment, but I probably was,” Paul said. “It really shows the heart we have. I’m supposed to put that in to go up 2-1, and I didn’t. The rest of the team picked us up, didn’t let one in and finally fought hard and won.

“It shows how resilient we can be.”

Gardiner started quickly with LaSalle’s opener just seven minutes after kickoff. Erskine answered through McKenney in the 32nd minute to send the game into the break tied at 1-1, despite the Tigers holding an advantage in every measurable category.

Gardiner outshot the visitors 12-4 in the first 40 minutes, including an 8-2 edge in shots on target.

Things evened in the second half with the Eagles finding better defensive shape in a 4-4-2 that sometimes looked like a 4-5-1, forcing the Tigers to try and pick their spots.

“I loved the battle,” LaSalle said. “That’s how it’s going to go in back and forth type games. It’s going to be a battle.”

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