By Josh Brown
CENTERVILLE — Last year, Alter knocked the Tippecanoe boys soccer team out in the regional final.
This year, the Red Devils got payback in the regular season, defeating the Knights 1-0 back on Sept. 28 in the middle of a 16-game winning streak.
Saturday, Alter took its turn.
After a back-and-forth yet scoreless first half, the Knights found a way to break through a Tippecanoe defense that had only given up 10 goals all season, scoring less than four minutes into the second half and then netting an insurance goal 12 minutes later to hold on for a 2-0 victory over the Devils in the Division II regional final Saturday at Centerville’s Alumni Stadium.
“It was just one of those cases where we made two mistakes, and they capitalized on them. And we couldn’t capitalize on theirs,” Tippecanoe coach Scott Downing said.
Alter, which finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in the final state poll, moves on to face St. Francis DeSales in the state semifinal — which it defeated 2-1 in last year’s state semifinal en route to a state title. The Red Devils — ranked third in the state in the final regular season poll — hadn’t lost since the third game of the season back on Aug. 26, a 3-0 loss to Northmont, giving them an 18-game unbeaten streak. Tippecanoe finished the season 19-2-1.
“It sucks losing,” Downing said. “We made two mistakes, and that’s what cost us. We warned them all year about discipline, marking up and execution, and it’s what cost us.”
“Having won the first game, we knew that they’d be pumped up. But after last year’s regional final, they graduated a good group of seniors, and we graduated a good group of seniors. No one really expected either of us to get this far this year.”
Both teams had plenty of chances throughout the first half as they raced up and down the field. Alter’s Dominic Ruffolo fired off the first shot, sending one way high 10 minutes in, followed by a Caiden Smith shot that was on frame but saved two minutes later. Aiden Petrello then hit another shot high for the Knights with 27:00 on the clock, and Ben Sauls knocked one wide for Tipp with 25:40 left until halftime. Back and forth it went throughout the first half, but neither team could find the net, and they went into the locker room tied 0-0.
With 36:18 left in the game, though, the Knights broke through. Ruffolo hit a cross into Tippecanoe’s box, and Ty Borton worked his way to the back side and won the ball in the air, heading it into the net to put Alter up 1-0.
Tippecanoe fought back, with Smith missing a pair of shots in a quick flurry and then hitting a free kick from just outside the box right at Alter keeper Bryson Najarian, who snared it. and with 26:40 to go in the game, Najarian made the game-saving play for the Knights as Michael Pfister hit a header on a cross by Cole Group, but Najarian made a diving save to preserve the lead.
And with 24:07 remaining, Alter hit a free kick from 50 yards out into the Tippecanoe box that deflected off of a number of players, and Ruffolo was able to jam in the ball after it popped free for an insurance goal.
“Especially in the second half, I thought we possessed the ball a lot more,” Downing said. “They’re just one of those teams that is good at defending, and they’ve got a couple of guys that can score. If they get more than two chances, they can finish.”
The Devils had a couple more chances from there, but the game got far more physical, with three yellow cards being thrown in the final 12 minutes — the first on Alter and then two on the Devils. And in the end, the Knights were able to hold on to advance to another state semifinal.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.