MELISSA — After a scoreless first half, Anna’s Coyotes got what they needed on Friday, March 2, at Cardinals Stadium versus rival Melissa: special plays from a special player — and it resulted in a 2-0 Coyotes win, keeping Anna (3-1-0, 8-7-4) on-track for a District 5-4A title.

“When you play a defense that’s that well organized,” Coyotes head coach Matt Ellis said, “it’s going to take something special to get you a goal. On both goals, Isaac Nino was phenomenal. The first one, dribbling through and being patient and setting up Carlos Garrido for a tap-in, and on the second, to get through four defenders before placing it in the corner, it was great.”

Garrido’s goal came with just over 10 minutes elapsed in the second half. Nino’s followed 10 minutes later.

“They’re tough to play against because they defend so well and they’re so organized,” Ellis said of the Cards. “And they can hit you on the break. They can counter on you quickly, before you know it. They had a couple of really good chances in the first half that we survived. We got lucky to get into the half at 0-0, in my opinion.”

For the winless Cards (0-5-1, 0-13-1), they’ve had more than their share of close games this season. “There have been two matches now with over one goal [difference],” Melissa head coach Kelley Pitzer said. The difference tonight? “It’s just a mental lapse, and it’s youth. I looked up and there’s seven freshmen playing, which is really promising for the future – but in the interim, it’s just hard. It’s hard for me, it’s hard for them. They want to win just as much as anybody else. It’s little mental mistakes. It’s little gaps.”

Senior Cards goalkeeper Josh Love made several saves throughout the contest.

Ellis said he was mostly pleased with the Coyotes’ defense, anchored all the way by sophomore goalkeeper David Joaquin who posted three saves. “I thought they were good. There were a couple of times we kind of got out of shape and we almost got caught by their No. 11 [Luke Hansen]. He’s a good player up top. But we still composed, recovered and didn’t give up a ton of chances, especially in the second half. We’ve been much more organized lately. I think we’re gelling together back there.”

Melissa’s district slate is now complete, but the Coyotes have two matches remaining and are confident in one thing above all else: “We know if we win our games we’re going to win district,” Ellis said. “We control our own destiny. I don’t know if we’ve ever been able to say in the past.”

Knotted, 0-0, at the half, Ellis said he told his charges to be patient. “I felt like a lot of times we were rushing to whip the ball in or quickly looking to play long balls to get in behind.” In short, he instructed, “Keep possessing the ball, hold up play and our chances will come.”

Midway through the first period, Luke Hansen had two chances from the far right side that Joaquin managed to thwart. Then, 19 minutes before the break, Anna’s Dawson Anderson had a breakaway opportunity after a long throw-in from Kaleb Stewart to Jerrod Roberts who slipped it to Anderson – but the shot went just wide right. Two minutes later, Coyote Gavin Reno’s long-range boot was snagged by Love in mid-air.

One of the Cards’ top scorers, Yoshiya Ando went down with an apparent leg injury after a collision with 15 minutes left in the first half and was helped off the pitch by Pitzer. After a visit to the locker room he returned to play in the second half.

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, the Cards dropped another close one to Gainesville, 2-1, this time on the road. The Leopards took a 1-0 lead late in the first half but Melissa’s Rafa Beracocha quickly answered with a header goal for a 1-1 tie at the break. Gainesville topped the Cards by the same score on Feb. 9.

Rick Atkinson is an independent correspondent who regularly contributes to the Anna-Melissa Tribune sports section.