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Salveson saves Spartans' 0-0 tie with Denfeld

A fan arriving at Public Schools Stadium early Tuesday night might have seen Denfeld beat Superior 3-1 in a boys soccer game. Ah, but that was the junior varsity game. When the varsity lads from the two schools get together, they don't get into t...

A fan arriving at Public Schools Stadium early Tuesday night might have seen Denfeld beat Superior 3-1 in a boys soccer game. Ah, but that was the junior varsity game. When the varsity lads from the two schools get together, they don't get into that scoring stuff.
Sure enough, as a full moon was fighting its way through some heavy overcast and a 30-mile-per-hour gale blew in off the lake, Denfeld and Superior battled to a 0-0 tie -- nil-nil, as they say out on the pitch -- and went home frustrated and exhausted from a game with Lake Superior championship overtones. Superior's colorful goalkeeper Nate Salveson made 16 saves, and Denfeld's Matt Smith made 12 as the game went through two overtimes without settling anything.
"It was a great game, but it's not really surprising for it to end 0-0," said Superior coach Tim Gallagher. "There was a lot of talk about who would be the best teams in the area before the season started, and nobody mentioned us or Denfeld. But these are the best two teams playing up here that I've seen."
The scoreless tie meant the Spartans still cling to first place in the Lake Superior Conference with a 6-1-1 record (9-5-1 overall), and only two league games remain -- Two Harbors on Friday and Cloquet next Tuesday. Denfeld stays in hot pursuit at 5-2-2.
"The only conference title Superior has ever won before was in 1996,
our second year of soccer," added
Gallagher.
It would take a better memory to recall the last time either Denfeld or Superior scored against the other. The two teams met in the preseason jamboree, which was the first event ever held at the renovated PSS, and it ended 0-0.
"It's that way every time we play Superior," said Denfeld coach Scott Anderson. "It's just like when we play Proctor, every soccer game we have with Superior is like this.
"I thought we outplayed Superior this time, and kept the ball in their end a lot, we just couldn't find the back of the net."
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Salveson was the reason the Spartans saved the tie. While Smith had some big saves at the other end, Denfeld had 25 shot attempts at the Superior cage, with several of them narrowly missing just wide or just over. In the last 20 minutes of regulation, Denfeld's Nick Polzin fed a perfect crossing pass, and Josh Bellamy blasted it just over the crossbar. Then Polzin got free and also shot just over the bar, igniting a furious flurry in the following minutes at the Superior goal.
With 5:41 remaining, it appeared Denfeld had finally broken through when a high shot bounced off Salveson, then off the crossbar, and wound up in the goal. Salveson looked devastated, with good reason. But the officials conferred and waved off the goal.
"I went up and tipped it," said Salveson. "I thought I tipped it over, but it hit the upper crossbar, then it came down and went in."
The soccer goals are secured to the football goalpost, but there are two crossbars, because the soccer goal bar is a foot lower than the football crossbar. So any ball is in play off the soccer crossbar, but out of play if it hits the higher football crossbar.
In the closing minutes, Salveson went to his right and grabbed a shot moving back toward the net, just an instant before Denfeld's Ryan Conklin came crashing in. The two of them slammed into the left goalpost, but Salveson never lost his grip.
It's been a rocky season for Salveson, who sat out the early weeks of the season with a school disciplinary suspension, then had to overcome an injury.
"He had some time to serve and then a shoulder injury, but he's back at full strength, and we depend on him," said Gallagher.
At the other end, Smith was just as flawless, and while he had some big saves, he didn't face as much steady pressure as his counterpart.
"Matt Smith played unbelievably," said Anderson. "I thought we had more pressure, but every once in a while they'd come in, almost on breakaways, and Matt had to be great."
While the conference title is still up for grabs, the closeness of Denfeld and Superior remains undecided, to say nothing of scoreless, but state boundaries mean nothing to a good rivalry. "It's fitting," said Gallagher. "Especially when we go into playoffs in different states."

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