For the first time in 12 years, Ellison is preparing for the playoffs.
With that in mind, coach Niles Dunnells has a few things he wants his team to work to improve.
First and foremost is keeping their defensive intensity as District 8-5A play winds to a close with the Eagles securely locked in as the No. 3 seed.
So far, so good. The Eagles scored early and held on in a 2-0 defensive battle Tuesday against Copperas Cove at Ellison.
“That is one thing that we have been trying to do — work on our defense and preserve the clean sheet,” Dunnells said. “We did that against Temple, and that was the goal of this game too. To tweak things and tighten things up as we prepare for the postseason.”
Ellison took the lead off a penalty kick in the 27th minute after junior Mohamed Balde was tripped in the box attempting to take a shot. Eagles junior Nathan Diederich feinted right, kicked left and put Ellison up 1-0.
“We just kept pushing and got something to go our way,” Diederich said. “It was big to go into halftime with a little lead because it carries into the second half.”
From there, the Eagles (15-6-1, 9-4 8-5A) had to hold on.
For the last 13 minutes of the first half and the first 10 of the second, Cove (4-7-2) continually countered Ellison’s attack and put pressure on the Eagles. They just could not connect on a solid shot.
“We had 20 good minutes on the attack, but Ellison is always going to be aggressive on defense and when you do that it is going to get physical,” Copperas Cove coach Michael Epley said.
Meanwhile, Ellison was having the same difficulty. The Eagles had two chances to put the game away late.
Diederich broke away off a counter in the 67th minute, only to be foiled by Copperas Cove goalkeeper Spencer Belle, who leaped and darted the shot away from the goal.
Seven minutes later, Donald Gamblin had a shot on goal, this time Spencer kept his feet, dove left and sent the shot sailing out of bounds.
“Spencer has been a wall for us all year,” Epley said. “He has kept us in a lot of games and has been a big influence on our defense.”
The third time, though, was too much.
Diederich got a through pass from Ryan Stuckey off another Ellison counterattack and was able to break away from the Cove defense and skirt a shot underneath a diving Belle in the final minute.
“It was a bit physical out there today,” Diederich said. “They had the playoffs on the line and had to win ... So they had something to work for, but we played with pride tonight.”