NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There will come a time in the not-too-distant future when playing well will no longer be good enough for the Drury High School boys soccer team.
But in the here and now, Monday's 3-0 loss to Monument Mountain represents another step forward for the Blue Devils.
True, they did not get the win the team craves. They did not even get the tie that seemed attainable until the middle of the second half.
But Drury played hard for 80 minutes. And before it tired appreciably in the last 20 or so, the home team more than made a game of it.
That is a far cry from recent meetings between the two programs.
"We've averaged losing to them in the past three years, 8-0," Drury coach Greg Caproni said. "I would have been a lot happier with a 2-0 game. That third goal really hurt. Because our boys played up to them, and it doesn't show it in the score."
Monument (4-1-2) did mount a 24-2 advantage in shots on goal, and Caproni knows that offense is an area where the Blue Devils need work. But a lot of the saves for Drury goalkeeper Joe Liporace were of the routine variety -- a sign that the defense in front of him was limiting the really dangerous chances for Monument.
The Spartans finally snapped a scoreless tie in the 51st minute when Lukas Montano created one of those dangerous chances with a pass in the box to an open Smit Mahida. Mahida found the back of the net for all the offense Monument needed.
Fourteen minutes later, the Spartans got their prettiest goal of the afternoon when Ace McAlister headed in a cross from the left wing by Tony Campetti to make it 2-0. Emil Gilkes tacked on an unassisted tally with 3 minutes, 30 seconds on the clock.
Drury (3-5) had a handful of chances to break through against the Monument defense. Most of those opportunities came on counters.
The first good look the Devils had at the goal came late in the first half -- on a counter -- when Thane Preite set up Michael Boland for a shot that went high of the goal. Midway through the second half, Boland had another breakout opportunity, but his bid to tie the game was saved by Monument keeper Mark Marzotto.
That chance led to Drury's first and only corner kick of the afternoon, and when it went by the boards, so went the Devils' last real threat to get on the board.
As the second half wore on, the Drury defense began to wear out. Caproni said it is not the first time the young Blue Devils have had trouble late against a quality opponent.
"I know I have a deep bench ... but my starters always seem to play better against better teams, so then I want to keep them in there longer," Caproni said. "I don't want to break up the flow that they have. But then they start to get tired."
Drury travels north to face Bennington, Vt.'s, Mount Anthony on Wednesday. Caproni will be looking for more of the
improvement he already has seen this fall from a team that features nearly as many eighth-graders (four) as seniors (six).
"Our boys are moving in the right direction," he said. "My expectations for this team were much different at the beginning of the year than it is right now. These boys surprise me every day. We play harder and harder."