BIRMINGHAM — As far as tests were concerned, this was nothing unique.
It was another Catholic League battle where the margin for error was minimal.
Contests like this one — tough regular-season battles against division rivals — help squads prepare for the postseason.
At least that’s the hope.
“Being in games like this, where everything is so close and you’re looking at 1-0 finals, for example, it can’t help but get you ready for the playoffs,” Rice coach Barry Brodsky said before a Sept. 25 home game against Central Division foe Warren De La Salle. “This is how it is all year for us, playing strong teams and close games. The hope is that all pays off.”
The first time Rice and DLS met, a 1-1 final ensued, doing nothing to separate the teams in the Central’s four-squad standings.
This time around, Rice got a late goal in the first half, an early goal in the second half and added some insurance on a penalty kick while cruising to a 3-0 victory.
“This was a huge win,” Brodsky said afterward.
With the win, Rice moved to 5-1-4 on the season, including a 3-1-1 mark in the Central.
One league game remained at press time for the Warriors and their quest to qualify for the Catholic League finals, set for Oct. 10.
But the real tournament begins Oct. 15 with the start of districts, and that’s where the main focus resides.
“There’s a lot of confidence on this team right now,” junior Garrison Schilling said. “Right now, it’s a matter of us getting to the point we need to be at. Building that chemistry and getting everyone on the same page.”
Rice’s record is somewhat bittersweet, as Brodsky explained.
Sure, the team had just one loss in 10 games, but the four ties highlight one of the biggest challenges the guys face right now — scoring.
“We’ve struggled,” Brodsky said simply. “We’ve generated chances and given ourselves opportunities, but we’ve struggled to finish, and that’s something that has to change.”
“We’re a team that possesses the ball a lot and uses the middle of the field a lot, so we know we have the skill,” senior Steven Berg said. “It’s still a work in progress, but we feel like we’re getting there.”
The scoring plights evaporated against De La Salle.
“We had scored eight goals all year, so to score three against a real good team like De La Salle was awesome,” Brodsky said.
Yet, while the inconsistent offense came to life, one of the team’s most constant strengths was also front and center, in the back, that is.
“We’ve gotten great goaltending all year, which is a huge reason for a lot of the success we’ve had,” Brodsky said of sophomore keeper Michael Thut.
Just seconds after taking the 1-0 lead against De La Salle, Thut was faced with a point-blank attempt and steered a rocket of a shot away from the goal. Brodsky said the save may have altered the game, but offered very little surprise that Thut made it.
“Mike made that great save, which he’s done all year,” he said.
It’s plays like that, and games like this, that feed into the Warriors’ confidence moving forward.
The team has constantly had to deal with one goal or scoreless games. The Warriors have had to claw back from deficits and defend miniscule leads.
And that’s what the playoffs are all about.
“When we’re on our game, I think we’ve shown that there aren’t many teams out there that can stop us,” Berg said with a smile.
While draws have yet to be done, Rice will play in the Berkley High Division 1 district with the likes of Beverly Hills Groves, Birmingham Seaholm and University of Detroit Jesuit, among others.
“We’ve had some great practice, some great tests to get ready for what that district is going to offer,” Brodsky said. “This whole season has been tough, but that’s how you want it. We haven’t had that easy game yet.”
They likely won’t before the season ends.