By Josh Brown
TROY — Over the past few years, the Troy Christian soccer team has piled up a lot of firsts.
A sectional and district championship two years ago. A regional final appearance last year.
It’s all led to where the Eagles are now, ranked No. 4 in Ohio in Division III in the latest state poll and having won eight straight to begin the season heading into Saturday’s matchup against Lehman.
“I was telling the guys that I feel like we’re Duke basketball right now,” Zeman said. “Everybody’s going to give us their best shot every time, so we’ve got to be ready every time we play.”
And though the Cavaliers played tough in the first half and kept the high-scoring Eagle offense in check, Troy Christian broke the scoreless tie in the second half by running off three goals in an eight-minute span and posting a 4-0 victory over Lehman Saturday at Eagle Stadium — the 100th career victory for Zeman.
“It feels great. I’m real excited,” Zeman said of the milestone. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, developing a soccer program here at Troy Christian, and I feel like the reputation we have is that TC boys soccer has a system in place. We’re striving for excellence every day, and we instill that into the boys when they’re freshmen so they know what to do when they’re seniors. This senior class has more than 50 wins right now, which is pretty awesome.
“That was the ultimate goal when we started — we wanted to have not just a soccer team but a soccer program, and I feel like we’ve done that.”
The Eagles (9-0) came into Saturday’s game having outscored opponents 51-2 on the season so far and with junior Jalen Hudgins leading the Metro Buckeye Conference with 15 goals of those goals on the year. But Lehman threw everything it had onto defense Saturday, putting a human wall between the Eagles and the Cavs’ goal — a strategy that proved effective early, as the teams battled to a 0-0 tie at halftime.
“Lehman played well, and I felt like he had a good gameplan,” Zeman said. “They dropped nine behind the ball and had one up top. He was just trying to clog the middle, and we didn’t have those chances like we should have.”
Troy Christian still found ways to create opportunities in the first half, though. With 20:18 left until halftime, a Tripp Schulte pass found Connor Peters making a run behind the Lehman defense, but the shot went just wide. A.J. Warden missed a similar shot with 16:55 remaining in the half, and a header by Preston Lair at the 9:10 mark was deflected just enough by a defender to slow it down enough for the goalkeeper to wrap up.
Hudgins, meanwhile, was held to only one shot at the goal early in the half, and the teams went in tied 0-0 at the break.
“Jalen came off frustrated at halftime,” Zeman said. “I said it’s just going to be that energy and playing the ball over the top — we felt if we kind of opened up the back four, we could get in behind them. That’s our style. Our possession game was great, but I felt like we overpossessed a little and couldn’t utilize our speed and quickness up top. But I’ll take it, it’s a good win.”
“It was frustrating at first,” Hudgins said. “We weren’t expecting it. But the second half was so different. We needed that spark, and we needed some intensity. I knew that if we got one, we’d get going.”
And that was all it took, too.
After hitting the crossbar with a shot early in the second half, Hudgins bounced back. Peters sent a high-arcing pass over the defense to spring Hudgins on a breakaway, and the junior redirected it in for an easy goal to finally break the tie with 28:23 to play.
And once the dam broke, the goals flowed.
“It was so much frustration, and then that one pass, that one goal, took it all away,” Hudgins said. “Coach said he thought we were possessing too much, so he said just let it go. If we could play over the top, then we could play over the top the rest of the game.”
At the 22:36 mark, Peters and Hudgins connected again on what could have been an instant replay of the first goal to make it 2-0, then Hudgins centered a ball from the right side to Lair, who put away another score with 20:43 to play that made it a three-goal game.
And after another Troy Christian shot had hit off the crossbar, Jacob Wynne hit a 30-yarder that sailed over the keeper’s head and under the bar to make the score 4-0 with 6:08 to play.
Defensively, the Eagles were never truly tested as goalkeeper Jackson Kremer only made a handful of plays, picking up stray passes in the box and never facing a shot to combine with Michael Whidden on the shutout.
Troy Christian hosts a pair of Miami County rivals early this week, taking on Newton Monday and then Miami East in a makeup match on Tuesday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.