By Josh Brown
CENTERVILLE — After claiming the momentum early in the second half, Troy Christian found itself fighting for just a little more time.
But everything had slipped away.
Eagle goalkeeper Jackson Kremer fought off Dayton Christian’s relentless pressure in the final 15 minutes of Wednesday’s Division III regional semifinal matchup between two state-ranked teams, but the Warriors were able to score on a rebound opportunity with less than two minutes left in regulation, defeating the Troy Christian boys soccer team 2-1 on a wet and sloppy night at Centerville’s Alumni Stadium.
The Eagles and Warriors had shared the Metro Buckeye Conference championship after playing to a 1-1 draw back on Oct. 2 in the regular season and entered the postseason as the top two seeds in the Dayton sectional, with Dayton Christian No. 1 and Troy Christian No. 2. The Warriors also finished the season ranked No. 3 in the state’s final D-III poll, with the Eagles ranked No. 6 — setting up a whopper of a grudge rematch to get to this year’s regional final.
In the end, though, Troy Christian found itself playing not to lose — and Dayton Christian took advantage.
“I kind of feel like we were just trying to get to overtime,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Zeman said. “Those last five minutes, we were nervous. I was going to try to sub a little bit and get them to overtime. Sam (Mathews) cramped up and had to come out, and that was hard, for our center back to go out. We dropped and played defensive for a bit just trying to get to overtime.”
And with 1:51 to play, Noah Alexander fired off a 40-yard shot in transition that Troy Christian senior goalkeeper Jackson Kremer — who had made several outstanding saves in the previous 15 minutes just to keep the game tied — turned away the shot but couldn’t wrap up the rebound. The ball bounced right to Sam Reid — who had scored the Warriors’ first goal of the game in the first half — waiting directly in front of the goal, and Reid finished from three yards out to give Dayton Christian the late lead.
“Jackson’s a phenomenal keeper. That ball just bounced off of him,” Zeman said. “It bounced off of him and right to Sam, and they ended up finishing it with about a minute and a half left.”
It was a heartbreaking end to a hard-fought rivalry matchup.
The two teams battled back and forth in the first half, with shot flying at both goals in an up-and-down game. Dayton Christian had the best chance, catching Kremer out of position with roughly four minutes to go in the half, but Troy Christian’s Mathews blocked the point-blank shot to keep the game scoreless.
But with 1:16 left until the break, Dayton Christian was awarded a free kick just outside the right corner of the box. Reid hit a 20-yarder that skipped along the wet ground and just inside the far post to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead at halftime.
In the second, though, the Eagles fought back.
Seven minutes into the half, Connor Peters carried the ball around the left corner and around a trio of defenders, somehow finding a way to get off a shot — that went just wide of the far post. The Eagles kept building on that, though, and with 26:08 left, Tripp Schulte stole the ball just outside the left corner of the box, settled it and hammered home a 20-yarder of his own to tie the score at 1-1.
The Eagles held momentum for a while after that, even almost taking the lead on a free kick that sailed just wide. But Dayton Christian swung momentum in its favor with roughly 15 minutes to play and Troy Christian never could regain it.
“I love the resilience we showed in the second half,” Zeman said. “If we had played the first half the way we played in the second, it could’ve been a different game. The resilience we showed — we wanted to score in the first 20 minutes, and we did — and we felt like the momentum changed our way. Jalen had a couple good chances, Tripp had that nice goal … and then it just kind of fizzled out.”
But even after Dayton Christian took the momentum, Kremer kept the Eagles’ hopes alive.
Kremer finished the match with nine saves, including a pair of headers on a corner kick with nine minutes to play. Kremer reached up with one hand and swatted the first header try on the original corner kick, then when Dayton Christian sent another one at him, he grabbed it out of the air and held on to keep the score tied.
The Warriors maintained the momentum from there, though, and eventually scored the game-winner late.
“We just couldn’t get it back,” Zeman said. “Tough way to go out.”
Dayton Christian improved to 18-2-1 on the season and will now face Madeira in the regional final Saturday. Troy Christian, which made its third straight regional tournament appearance, finished the season 15-2-1.
“Heck of a season,” Zeman said. “We won the Metro Buckeye (Conference), third time district champs. I’m proud of all my seniors — and we’ve got to be ready for next year.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.