SALINA—Dave Ouderkirk wasn't expecting success to come overnight for his Salina Central soccer team and it hasn't been an easy road so far for the Mustangs.
But they may have taken a step in the right direction Thursday night during a 3-1 loss to McPherson at Salina Stadium.
"This team has a lot of new, young guys, and if they're not young they're inexperienced," Ouderkirk said after watching the Mustangs fall to 1-5 despite hanging with McPherson (6-1) for the better part of 80 minutes. "We knew it was going to be a progression thing.
"But I feel we were a break here or a break there away tonight. If we don't miss a couple of opportunities and don't make a mistake on a couple of theirs it's a different game. They just outfinished us."
The Mustangs never led, but had a chance to get even at 2-2 early in the second half when Arran Wilson made a long run down the left center toward goal and barely missed far post in the 51st minute.
Central actually outshot McPherson after intermission but the Bullpups put it away in the 75th minute when Tyler Hoxie caught the Mustangs' goalkeeper off his line and scored from 40 yards out. It was the Bullpups' only shot on goal in the half.
"That was two teams that were physically exhausted," McPherson coach Chris Adrian said. "Both teams weren't at full strength and there wasn't a lot of (substituting).
"The first 11 for both sides had to grind and we did just enough to get it done."
The Bullpups struck first in the third minute on a corner kick when Jael Jaime sent in a ball from the right side found its way through a scrum in the box to the foot of Rhett Edmonson at the left post.
"Starting off strong is always important," Edmonson said. "It kind of creates a mental (tone) because it's hard to be down 0-1."
Edmonson set up McPherson's second goal, in the 12th minute, with a long throw-in from the right side. It found Britton Haigh inside the 6-yard box for a header that Grant Sheppard saved, only to have Haigh pound in the rebound.
Central, which produced just two shot in the opening half, got back in the game in the 25th minute when Leon Berkley slotted a pass forward to the right side of the penalty area for Brian Pina, who gathered the deflected pass and tucked it under the keeper inside the left post.
Central was without injured starters Logan Johnson and Liam Foley, leaving Ouderkirk with a thin bench.
"We only subbed two guys," he said. "We were only 13 deep, so most of our starters played all 80 minutes."
The Mustangs go on the road twice next week, playing Tuesday at Goddard Eisenhower and Thursday at Maize South.