By Josh Brown
KETTERING — Troy Christian boys soccer’s progression as a program has been easy to chart the past few years.
Three seasons ago, it was a 7-10 year. In 2015, the team was 11-7-1, falling in the sectional title match to Franklin Monroe. And last year, it was a first-ever sectional championship, followed immediately by a first-ever district title and a 16-2-2 finish.
This year’s Eagles are already headed one step farther.
Troy Christian (15-3-1) shut down Madeira defensively and got a pair of goals by junior Grant Conklin on a frigid and rainy Wednesday night at Fairmont High School, winning the Division III regional semifinal matchup 2-0 and advancing to the regional final for the first time in the program’s history.
“We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds, I feel like,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Zeman said. “It’s been great to see these boys fight and show that relentless attitude. They just keep going and going and going. It may not be the prettiest soccer sometimes, but they just keep finding ways to win.”
The conditions certainly weren’t the prettiest — but that may have actually helped the Eagles.
Wednesday’s game was played under a constant driving downpour, with temperatures well below 50 degrees to compound the problems. But the Eagles weren’t as hampered by the conditions as the Mustangs, and they were able to battle through the elements to take control.
“They’re a possession team, so I felt like the weather was going to play in our favor a little bit,” Zeman said. “They’re more of a finesse and possession team, and with the rain, it’s hard to do that. We just tried to sneak a couple quick goals on them, and we were able to do that.”
Conklin scored an early goal to put the Eagles on top. He lined up to take a corner kick, and Madeira’s goalie came out to cut off the pass before any other Eagles could redirect it. But he misplayed it and knocked it into his own goal, and Troy Christian led 1-0.
The Eagles made it a two-goal lead with seven minutes left before halftime. Kevin Smith sent a ball into the box, and Conklin found his way to the other end of it, heading it into the goal to make it a 2-0 game — and the Eagle defense hung tough throughout the bitter cold and wet second half to hold on for the win.
Now Troy Christian will face defending state champion Summit Country Day, the state’s No. 1-ranked team in D-III in the final poll, in Saturday’s regional final at 3 p.m. at Lakota East High School. Summit — which knocked the Eagles out in last year’s regional semifinal round in an 8-0 game — narrowly defeated Dayton Christian 1-0 in Wednesday’s other semifinal, scoring the game’s only goal on a handball-induced penalty kick with 4:43 to play.
“We’re excited to play Summit,” Zeman said. “My boys wanted Summit more than Dayton Christian, so now we’ll see what we can do against them.”
Col. Academy 1
SPRINGFIELD — Within six minutes, Tippecanoe had the lead.
Before the end of the first half, it was well out of reach — leaving the Red Devils looking forward to the rematch nearly everyone expected.
Tippecanoe (19-1-1) got a pair of goals from sophomore Ben Sauls and dominated Wednesday’s Division II regional semifinal against Columbus Academy, coasting to a 4-1 victory on a rainy night at Springfield High School to advance to Saturday’s regional title match against Alter.
“That’s the plan every game. It’s just not all the time that it works,” Tippecanoe coach Scott Downing said with a laugh of the Devils’ four unanswered goals to start the match. “We just came out really going at them tonight, and finally, tonight, it worked. It was just bam, bam, bam, and they had to be in shock after the first 10-15 minutes.”
Caiden Smith opened up the scoring with 34:43 left in the first half. After Cole Group sent a ball into the box that deflected off of a number of players, Smith was able to jam a loose ball in to give Tippecanoe a 1-0 lead. And with 29:35 left in the half, Michael Pfister made it a two-goal game by ripping in a shot from 30 yards out.
The Devils didn’t let up on the pressure, either. Miles McClurg hit a free kick from 50 yards out, and the Viking goalkeeper tried to come out to intercept the ball. But Sauls was there first and headed it in, making the score 3-0 with 20:29 still on the clock in the first half.
And with 3:20 until the break, Sauls — who scored the only goal in Tippecanoe’s regional semifinal win last season — jumped on another loose ball in front of the Columbus Academy box, making it a 4-0 game at halftime and basically wrapping things up early.
“The first half, we were moving the ball real well,” Downing said. “We were creating opportunities, getting off good shots, following up shots. It was probably one of the best halves we’ve played so far. Going into the second half 4-0, we were just like, ‘Wow, as long as we don’t give up four goals, we win.’”
David Barren put the Vikings on the board with 17:51 left in the game, but by then it was far too late, and the Devils cruised from there.
“In the second half, we played a little more defensive,” Downing said. “I think the weather started getting to us a little more then, too. We got a little bit sloppy. At that point, I think the kids realized that we were up by four, and the effort level may have dropped a bit, and in those conditions, that’s maybe to be expected.
“If it was only a 1-0 game, I wouldn’t have felt safe. But it was a good win for us.”
Tippecanoe entered the postseason as the No. 3-ranked team in the state in D-II. Its regional final opponent, Alter, was the No. 5 team in that final poll, and defeated the Red Devils 2-0 in last year’s regional championship match. The Devils handed the Knights a 1-0 loss on the road on Sept. 28 this season — and now the two teams will battle for the right to advance to the state semifinal round Saturday at Centerville’s Alumni Stadium as part of a doubleheader. Tippecanoe’s girls will play in the regional final against Indian Hill at noon in Centerville, with the Tippecanoe-Alter boys match following at 3 p.m.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.