By Josh Brown
CENTERVILLE — For years, the boys soccer banner in the Eagle’s Nest gymnasium sat empty and undecorated.
After winning its first ever sectional title on Saturday, Troy Christian decided that adding one number wasn’t enough.
“Obviously, we haven’t even come close to this in school history,” said Troy Christian senior Jon Slone after the Eagles captured their first ever Division III district championship with a 2-0 victory over Cincinnati Country Day Thursday at Centerville’s Magsig Middle School. “It’s huge. Our goal was to get numbers on the banner. And now we have the opportunity get even more. It’s something we’ve never done before. It’s amazing.”
“We’ve been wanting numbers on the banner since my freshman year, since Jon’s freshman year,” said junior Andrew Strait. “We finally got one, moved on to the district final — and won it, too.”
It’s been a fairly steady climb for the senior class of Slone, Seth Wynne, Brendan Pohle and Jarred Kendall. The Eagles went 10-2-4 in their freshman year of 2013, then 7-10 in 2014 — both years falling in the postseason opener. Last season, the team went 11-7-1, reaching the sectional title game before falling in overtime to Franklin Monroe.
Now Troy Christian sits at 16-1-2, preparing to face the No. 1 team in the state Summit Country Day in the regional semifinal round Wednesday at Mason High School.
“Our banner is empty that hangs in the gym,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Zeman said through some pain after trying to escape a Gatorade bucket dump left him with a swollen eye. “It’s been a goal for us the last couple of years to get something on it, and we just got number on it for winning the sectional final and district final. That was one of our big season goals, one of our big motivations. It sits empty in our gym, and now there will be ‘2016’ on it … twice.”
And in the game’s opening minute, sophomore Eagle goalkeeper Jackson Kremer made the first of a number of critical plays.
On Cincinnati Country Day’s opening run, the Indians’ Daniel Nesbitt took a pass with some space in the center of the field from 20 yards out and fired a rocket of a shot. But Kremer was ready for it, making a fully-extended diving save going to his right and then covering up the ball to prevent a rebound on what would prove to be the Indians’ best scoring chance in the entire game.
“No, not really,” Kremer said when asked if he knew how important that play would end up being. “I was just focused on doing my job every second of the game. They’re a great team, and I knew they were going to get shots regardless. So I was ready.”
Roughly nine minutes later, Strait made the next key play — and put all the pressure on Cincinnati Country Day.
Troy Christian drew a foul outside the right corner of the box, and Grant Conklin served the free kick into the center of the box, only to have an Indian defender head it over the goal to give the Eagles a corner kick. Conklin put that ball in the center of the box, too, and again a defender got a head on it — only this time he popped it straight up, and Strait was right there to drive home a header of his own to put the Eagles up 1-0 with 30:31 left in the first half.
“We knew coming out that whoever scored first was going to have the upper hand,” Strait said. “I just got a good ball, it popped off one of their defenders and just floated up to me, and I knew I had to finish it hard.
“Those (corner kicks) are the hardest plays to finish. It’s a lot of luck more than anything, and I just got a little lucky on that one.”
Troy Christian only got two more real chances in the first half, with a pair of breakaways being cut off by the goalkeeper before a shot could be taken, and after that the Indians controlled possession for the rest of the half and midway through the second half. The Eagle defense of Seth and Jacob Wynne, Pohle, Kevin Smith and Tristan Miller kept the Indians’ shots from being too dangerous, though — and Kremer did the rest when anything actually found its way on frame.
“My defense does great,” Kremer said. “We haven’t been scored on in the tournament yet, and that’s something we’re proud of. And I’d give credit for that to our defense.”
“… And here’s the best keeper in the district. Right here. Right here,” said Seth Wynne, grabbing Kremer by the shoulder as he passed by before joining his celebrating teammates after the game.
Kremer made a number of saves to keep Troy Christian up by one, with the most dangerous one being on a header by John Blang on a corner kick attempt less than five minutes into the second half. Still, 24 minutes into the second half and the Eagles hadn’t truly threatened again offensively since posting their goal.
With 15:46 left in the game, Slone changed that.
Colt Tanner sent a perfect 50-yard pass from Troy Christian’s defensive end all the way to the other side of the field, giving Slone a chance to beat the defense to it. Three defenders stood between Slone and the ball, but he ran around two of them and took the ball in front of the third, racing past and beating the keeper one-on-one by hammering a shot in to give the Eagles the insurance they desperately needed.
“Very badly. We had to drop some guys back, but I knew our forwards, Strait and I, we had to push as hard as we could,” Slone said. “We needed that cushion goal. Once we got that, we knew that would seal the deal and we could push them out eight and nine behind the ball.
“That kid was coming in fast. He was flying, and I knew I had him off balance since he was putting high pressure on the whole game. I knew if I could get one touch past him, I’d be able to make something happen.”
After that, the Indians found even less luck getting quality shots on the goal, with Kremer being forced to make one last save on a shot by Nesbitt with 5:30 remaining. He made it, though, and the Eagles completed the shutout to capture their first district title.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Zeman said. “It was a tough battle. They’re very technical and possess the ball well, and we were able to counter and score that late goal, get the other one off a set piece. I’m proud of our seniors. I feel like our seniors, Seth and Jon and Brendan, led the charge. We’d done a lot of study on this team, and we went in with a gameplan that we had to execute — and I feel like we executed it well.
“It’s exciting, it’s crazy — I don’t know what to say, really. We’ve never been here before, so we’re obviously super happy and celebrating for sure.”
And continuing their banner season.
SCD 6, Bethel 0
MONROE — Bethel knew what it was up against going into Thursday’s Division III district final against Summit County Day at Monroe High School.
In the end, though, the Bees couldn’t get anything going or slow down the attack of the top-ranked team in the state in D-III, falling 6-0 to end the season.
“Playing the No. 1 team in the state was a hard chore,” Bethel coach Bob Hamlin said. “They are so technically gifted and move the ball so well, and they just have so many weapons. We gave up a couple of goals we should not have in the first half and were down 5-0. We regrouped and actually finally got used to the speed of play, and our kids played hard throughout and never gave up.
“We had a very good season. We won 10 games in a row before losing tonight. We had some big wins to become Cross County Conference champions. These kids worked hard all year, executed gameplans well and came together to form a true team. I am very proud of these guys.”
Wyoming 0 OT
WEST CHESTER — After not reaching the district final last season, the Tippecanoe Red Devils were determined not only to get back, but to go beyond.
Thursday night, they earned a trip to the regional tournament with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Wyoming Cowboys in the Division II district final at Lakota West High School, scoring the game’s only goal less than three minutes into overtime.
After a scoreless first 80 minutes, Wade Timmer found an open Caiden Smith for the game-winning goal 2:30 into the first overtime frame. It was the fourth game this season that Tippecanoe won 1-0 — including a one-goal win in the sectional final over Carroll, the team that ended its season last year in the same round.
Tippecanoe, now 18-1-1, will face either Columbus Bishop Hartley or Beechcroft Wednesday at Xenia High School in the regional semifinal round, which the Devils last reached in 2014.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.