SOUTH WEBSTER – While Wheelersburg’s defense and goalkeeper Eric Green were indeed money, Aaron Jolly was just golden.
That’s because the junior forward Jolly scored both of the visiting Pirates’ two goals, including the game-winner with only a minute and 20 seconds remaining, as Wheelersburg stunned South Webster 2-1 in a key Southern Ohio Conference Division II boys soccer clash on Tuesday.
Jolly scored first with 17 minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the opening half, then answered the Jeeps’ penalty-kick goal with four minutes remaining – notching his short-range second tally with just 80 seconds to play.
It was arguably his biggest goal of the season, as the Pirates pushed ahead of the Jeeps for first-place in the SOC II – improving to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the league.
Meanwhile, Minford (5-1 SOC) maintained its first-place tie with Wheelersburg in the division, doubling up host Northwest 2-1 on Tuesday night.
The Jeeps, which celebrated Senior Night by honoring their seven seniors prior to the match, dipped to 5-2 in the SOC II – part of now 8-3.
This is South Webster’s first soccer season as a member of the larger-school SOC II, and it appeared as if the Jeeps would celebrate Senior Night in memorable fashion.
With South Webster trailing 1-0 with 4:05 remaining, senior standout Gavin Bennett – who did not play in Wheelersburg’s 3-1 victory in the two teams’ initial meeting – beat Green to the low-side right with his penalty-kick goal.
A Jeep was taken down and fouled just inside the goalbox, as the hosts dominated possession and opportunities against Green and the Pirates’ defense.
But the Jeeps only scored on the Bennett PK, and Wheelersburg would end up with one last chance.
With Will Darling’s long throw-in, Jolly got a slightly clear run on the ball, shooting one right at South Webster freshman keeper Jaren Lower.
Lower, who played well and was around the ball all evening for the Jeeps, couldn’t squeeze Jolly’s shot – and it squirted through and into the net for the Pirates’ stunning second marker.
At the two-minute mark, Lower leaped and grabbed a high Darling throw-in, but couldn’t quite keep the handle on Jolly’s final shot.
It was an unfortunate ending for the Jeeps, but a dramatic intense triumph for the Pirates.
“We knew at halftime we had to play a full 80 minutes. Going down to the last 20, the game really started to intensify to an even higher level. Once it got under 10, both teams went all out. Once they (Jeeps) got the PK with four minutes to go, our biggest thing was how we were going to react and handle adversity after holding the lead for so long. Our guys responded,” said Wheelersburg coach Jon Estep. “In this game, sometimes it’s good to have a little luck go your way. Their freshman keeper (Lower) had played well all game long, and it was heart-breaking for him to be in that situation. But Aaron Jolly has worked really hard in his career, and deserves a little luck on his side.”
Jolly is the Pirates’ primary player, and the squad’s leading scorer.
South Webster coach Corey Claxon claimed the final goal was a breakdown which began before Jolly even got the ball.
“That kind of thing happens sometimes with a keeper, but Jolly is a dangerous player up front and we knew we had to contain him. He managed to get his way through and get his shots. He was dangerous enough to put two in on us,” he said. “The last one, they get a throw-in and he gets it.”
On Jolly’s initial goal, the start of the sequence wasn’t a throw-in, but due to the Jeeps not winning a punt.
The Pirates played the ball up from fellow junior Logan Davis in the back, Jacob Saxby one-touched it through the Jeep defense and hit Jolly in stride, and Jolly did the rest by getting past the fullbacks and gaining a one-on-one at Lower.
“I like our chances when Aaron has a one-on-one with any keeper around,” said Estep.
“I’ve been on our guys all year about winning the ball from punts and goal kicks. When we don’t do that, we give teams opportunities,” said Claxon. “They got a touch on it, slipped it through to him, and Jolly is fast and good going one-on-one with the keeper. If we win that ball in the first place, we’re never in that situation.”
The Jeeps also wish they had some of their scoring chances find the back of the net.
They actually outshot Wheelersburg by a 2-1 margin (20-10), with an 8-4 advantage in shots on goal.
In fact, a solid three-quarters of the match was played in the Jeeps’ offensive half and/or third.
“We put ourselves in a good position with lots of possessions and lots of shots. Unfortunately, they don’t always equate goals,” said Claxon. “We possessed the ball and limited their chances, but they took advantage of theirs and we couldn’t knock it in other than the PK.”
The Jeeps also held an 8-4 advantage in corner kicks, including a flurry of four in four minutes in the second half – from with 32 minutes remaining to 28 minutes left.
But Green and the Wheelersburg defense, with Davis returning after missing three weeks, was up to the task.
Green recorded seven saves, including a hard and sharp two-handed snare at the 30-minute mark – on a Tryston Robinson rocket right off a Jeep corner kick.
South Webster senior Gabe Ruth then controlled the ball beyond midfield and up the right side deep into Pirate territory, and faced a one-on-one with Green.
But Brady Warren rushed in and assisted Green on a beautiful double kick-save, thus keeping the Jeeps off the board until Bennett was fouled in the box at the four-minute mark.
“Our defense held strong. It was a total team effort,” said Estep. “That back line has basically been together for the last two years. They work well with each other. In the first half, a lot of shots that we deflected or misdirected was them getting a foot on the ball or stepping in front of the ball. We forced them into a lot of shots early on outside of the 18. In the second half, Eric (Green) made some nice saves. He does a nice job of setting his walls up and making sure everybody is marked up. And they had some chances with several corner kicks, a lot of direct kicks and free kicks right around the 18 too. We were holding our breath on every one of them.”
But now, the Pirates can breathe just a little easier – given Tuesday’s critical conference victory.
In fact, Estep said it was his first win AT South Webster in his 15 years of coaching.
The Pirates were also playing following a dozen-day layoff between matches.
“This is not an easy place to win at. I had never won here before as a coach, so it was nice to finally get that monkey off the back,” said Estep. “But these guys deserve it. We had a goal in mind, and we prepared over the last week and tonight came out and executed – with a little luck on our side.”
Indeed, as Claxon said, sometimes the soccer ball doesn’t seem to bounce the right way.
“We gave it everything we had tonight, especially our seven seniors, five who start for us. They are a talented group, we are proud of them, and you can’t fault or question our effort. Unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way against them (Pirates) on our home field,” he said.
The Jeeps will play Minford again, as will Wheelersburg – which will be at Minford for the regular-season finale.
“It’s going to be an exciting finish to the season, just like it was last year with a three or four-team race,” said Estep. “We wanted to leave here tonight controlling our own destiny, so we like that fact.”
The Pirates are the defending SOC II champion, which comes with it the golden ball.
On Tuesday, Green and the Wheelersburg defense was indeed money – with the junior Jolly simply being golden.
* * *
Wheelersburg 1 1 – 2
South Webster 0 1 – 1
W – Aaron Jolly (Jacob Saxby assist), 17:12, 1st (1-0 W)
SW – Gavin Bennett (penalty kick), 4:05, 2nd (1-1 tie)
W – Aaron Jolly (Will Darling assist), 1:20, 2nd (2-1 W)
SHOTS – Wheelersburg 10, South Webster 20
SHOTS ON GOAL – Wheelersburg 4, South Webster 8
SAVES – Wheelersburg 7 (Eric Green), South Webster 2 (Jaren Lower)
CORNER KICKS – Wheelersburg 4, South Webster 8
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