And then, there were eight.
South Webster boys soccer is one of the final eight teams remaining in the Division III tournament. On Saturday, the Jeeps (15-1-4) will compete for a spot in state in a regional final contest with No. 2 Grandview Heights (16-0-4)
South Webster advanced to this point in the tournament with a 2-1 win over Northwest on Wednesday night. The Bobcats of Grandview Heights defeated Tuscarawas Valley 7-0 on the same day to move on.
It has been a dream season for the Jeeps, who are in the regional final for just the second time in school history.
Along the way, South Webster has gotten a lot of support from fans and the community.
“We’re excited, and really I think the whole community is excited,” Jeeps head coach Corey Claxon said. “We’ve experienced a lot of support all season, but especially when you make a nice run in the tournament.”
Claxon says the support has extended beyond the community of South Webster, and into the soccer community of the area as well.
“The soccer community, too,” Claxon said. “I’ve had coaches text and congratulate us and encourage us to represent the southeast district well … We want to represent our area the best we can and that’ll be the plan.”
The Jeeps will get to play at a familiar field, as Waverly will be the site for the match with Grandview Heights. South Webster has played their last three matches at Waverly Stadium.
“That’s going to be nice going to a place we’re familiar with,” Claxon said. “We’ve been through the routine for a couple games there, and every little bit can help.
“I appreciate [Waverly AD] Bo Arnett willing to host that game, and he’s been real good to us when we’ve gotten there of making us feel welcome.”
Benefiting from a familiar pitch isn’t the only thing working in favor of the Jeeps. South Webster has also been able to practice at a fellow SOC school’s turf leading up to the match.
“We’ve been able to practice some at Oak Hill High School,” Claxon said. “Norm Persin, the AD up there, allowed us to get on the field. So, that’s a part of the community support too.”
As for the test that awaits them, Claxon knows the Bobcats have a lot of speed in their arsenal.
“They’ve got a team full of guys that can get forward,” Claxon said. “They’ve got three forwards that run up top for them, and they’ve got midfield players that are also getting forward to the attack and pass really well in the middle.
“Even their defenders get pretty involved on offense as well, so we’re going to have to be on our A game and on our best game.”
Grandview Heights has scored at least four goals in every tournament match, and has surrendered only one score. In tournament games, the Bobcats have outscored their opponents 24-1.
As a team, Grandview Heights has allowed just 12 goals all season.
“Hopefully we can make some opportunities up front,” Claxon said. “I have confidence in Sam [Holstein] and Shiloah [Blevins] that they can score on anybody, especially the more chances we get and if we give them enough opportunities.”
“We can’t defend all game. We need to counter attack and take advantage of our opportunities, and maybe even push forward and get some corner kicks to create scoring opportunities.”
While the Bobcats defense has been stingy throughout the season and significantly more dominant in the tournament, South Webster has compiled some strong defensive performances as well.
Outside of the Lynchburg-Clay tournament game in which the Jeeps allowed three goals, South Webster has only given up two scores in three tournament matches. The Jeeps were able to contain Northwest’s attack, and despite giving up three scores early against the Mustangs, South Webster was able to hold Lynchburg-Clay scoreless for the final 66 minutes of play.
That match with the Mustangs was a solid test, as Lynchburg-Clay has two of the top goal scorers in the southeast district in Kyle Luneke (36) and Austin Hilt (20).
The Jeeps played perhaps their best defensive match of the season against the Mohawks of Northwest, becoming one of only two teams to hold Northwest to just one score on the season. South Webster also gave the Mohawks their first loss of the season, and will need to do the same to Grandview Heights in order to advance.
On a solid defensive unit for the Jeeps, the greatest attribute South Webster presents is being there to help each other when someone makes a mistake.
“Every defender gets beat once in a while, even your keeper gets beat,” Claxon said. “But, when you’ve got guys that are covering for each other, it just makes it so much tougher to beat and I think that’s what we have had.”
“An example of that last game with Michael [Andrews] getting back, and [Jacob] Ruth always covers for our other players. The same could be said for Zach Robinson and Caleb Cunningham. If they work together well and cover for each other, it’s going to be tough for them to get in behind us.”
Andrews recorded two saves in the win over Northwest as a defender.
Claxon knows that his defense will be tested again, however.
“[Them getting behind us] still may happen, and that’s when you look for your keeper to make a save,” Claxon said. “I expect them to play well, and nobody is perfect. You’re facing the best teams in the state now, and anything can happen.”
A big key to the season for the Jeeps has been the play of freshman keeper Tanner Voiers. Voiers was big against Northwest last match, saving six out of seven shot attempts that were sent his way.
In this matchup, it looks like the play of Voiers and the defense will continue to be critical.
“We definitely need to defend well,” Claxon said. “These guys are going to be coming and attacking hard on us, and we’ll need to step up big on defense.”
If South Webster can play great defense and make the most of their chances on the other end, we could be seeing the Jeeps in the state semifinals.
For now, though, South Webster will need to beat Grandview Heights to make it there. The match is set to start at 3 p.m. Saturday at Waverly.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer