MINFORD — The Wheelersburg Pirates preferred not to share with anybody Thursday night.
Faced with the prospect of splitting the Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship with two other clubs, the Wheelersburg High School boys soccer squad made sure its latest league title was indeed all its own.
The Pirates put up all four of their goals over the match’s final 58 minutes and 19 seconds, pitched a defensive shutout, and avenged their only defeat of the entire season by blanking host Minford 4-0 to capture another outright SOC II championship.
It was their second consecutive crown under fifth-year head coach Jon Estep, and the 17th in the program’s proud history — all since 1988.
The Pirates wrapped up their stellar regular season at 15-1-0 and atop the SOC II at 9-1-0, as the Falcons — had they won — would have produced a three-way tie with Wheelersburg and South Webster, with all three being at 8-2-0.
But no worries for Wheelersburg, as it turned the tables on Minford, which won at Wheelersburg 3-2 in the two teams’ initial meeting.
The Pirates got an unassisted Aaron Jolly goal with 19-and-a-half minutes remaining before halftime, then scored twice in the span of almost 17 minutes in the second half — prior to a Mason Nolan penalty-kick marker with just three minutes to play.
Wheelersburg’s defense, meanwhile, while tested with Minford maintaining a hefty amount of the possession in its offensive half, didn’t allow a single solitary goal this time around.
The Pirates also spoiled Minford’s Senior Night, as four Falcon seniors — Adam Cordle, Brayden Davis, Josh Wiehle and Evan Wheeler — were honored before the match.
For Estep, he was asked to compare this season’s SOC II championship team with his first four teams
He said this team reminded him of his first in Orange and Black.
“This team draws very similar comparisons to my first year. Other than the style of play, the statistical side of it, the record, everything is basically the same and very similar to how that 2015 team ended up,” said Estep. “But they all rank up there together. The first one was special because it was my first year here. This group has worked tremendously hard all summer long, all preseason, all throughout the offseason and in the weight room. They challenged themselves early on to repeat because they know how difficult it is.”
Especially since South Webster was in the SOC II for the first time — after many years of dominating the SOC I.
Wheelersburg swept South Webster by identical 3-1 scores, but because the Falcons had won at Wheelersburg, the division championship still stood undecided — until about the 15-and-a-half minute mark of the second half and when Minford’s grass pitch began giving way to some slipping by both teams on the wet surface.
Estep emphasized that the biggest difference in the return tilt was the health of his charges, especially Logan Davis anchoring the defensive back line.
“We were healthy. In the first game, we were missing three starters — two to injury and one due to an incident in the previous game. So to have two of those three starters back was nice, including Logan Davis in the back because he is the fastest guy we have out here and he solidifies our defense with his speed,” he said. “Minford has a lot of speed, and I thought their speed hurt us in the first game.”
Estep also said that senior midfielder Will Darling, and his “strong leg” and ability to generate instant offense with throw-ins from the sides, made a major impact.
“Our defense just plays much better when all four guys are out there together,” said the coach. “We had guys that were in the right spot in the goal that saved a couple on the back side and one on the front post from going in. I credit that to having our main four back there.”
On Thursday, while the Falcons played primarily in their offensive half, they couldn’t connect on any of their 15 shots, including only officially two on goal — and none in the first half.
Minford coach Dave Gampp said his Falcons found everything — but the back of the net.
In both matches, the Pirates led 1-0 at halftime.
“In this game, we still out-possessed them despite being down 1-0. We’re a really good possession team and we work hard at it. The second half, we got a lot more shots and did a lot more possession, but we hit a crossbar twice and a side post once, and miss on a header where the defender is two feet off the post and the ball hits him in the leg,” said Gampp. “They made their chances and ours missed. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Cordle — playing on an ankle injured in practice on Wednesday — couldn’t connect at the 20-and-a-half minute mark, missing just wide right of Wheelersburg goalkeeper Eric Green.
The Pirates made Minford pay only a minute-and-a-half later, when Wheelersburg’s Jolly gained control of the ball at the top of the goalbox, and beat Falcon keeper Jesse Cantrell to his lower right for the 1-0 lead.
“They really only had one real good opportunity in the first half, and they scored on it. We got one shot, but it wasn’t a really good shot,” said Gampp of the opening half. “I’ve been on the side where you possess the ball more and your defense plays well, but it didn’t finish out right this time.”
Speaking of finishing, the Pirates did that twice in the second half to stake a 3-0 advantage.
Jacob Saxby scored off a Jolly assist at the 32:19 mark, then Chris Shiepis scored unassisted with 15-and-a-half minutes remaining.
“We were up 1-0 at halftime again, the same as the first match. We used that as motivation at halftime, and we knew Minford wasn’t going to quit, given they were playing for a share of the conference. The first 10-to-15 minutes of the second half we had to withstand any run they were going to throw at us. We knew if we could get through that, and could keep pecking away and get another goal or two in, we would put ourselves in good position,” said Estep. “We were able to do that. We withstood a couple of opportunities that they had on some corners and some little runs in, and we took advantage of the opportunities that we had.”
In all, the Pirates attempted 16 shots, including nine on goal against Cantrell.
One of those was actually a first-half penalty kick that Jolly didn’t convert — after scoring his goal.
“In soccer sometimes, you might dominate possession, but you aren’t able to put the ball in the net. I’ve been on both sides of that,” said Estep.
Gampp’s group was on the wrong end of it on Thursday night — and twice against South Webster.
“Our seniors played hard tonight and I’m sure they are upset just as much as I am. We all want to win, but someone has to lose, and sometimes it’s not on your side,” he said. “Wheelersburg deserves it (SOC II championship). They beat South Webster twice whereas we couldn’t get past them once. I really thought we could get this one tonight, but it is what it is. I’m really proud of all my players. They’ve all played really hard for me this year, and we’re not done yet, we just have to get our heads back on to what we need to do in the tournament and finish strong.”
The Falcons finished the regular season at 11-4-1, and are the third-seeded squad in this week’s Division III sectional.
Minford — returning on Wednesday at 5 p.m. for the sectional championship bout— will host the winner of Saturday’s semifinal matchup between Southeastern at New Boston.
It is indeed possible, both coaches said, that there will be a third meeting between the Pirates and Falcons — which would be for the Division III district title at Waverly.
But for Thursday night, it was all about the Pirates keeping another SOC II Gold Ball — all for themselves.
“These guys wanted to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. We have some talented guys and to cap it off tonight to win it outright is very satisfying,” said Estep.
Wheelersburg will be the top seed in next week’s Division III sectional, and will host Wednesday’s championship match — against the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between Fairland and Zane Trace.
Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.
* * *
Wheelersburg 1 3 — 4
Minford 0 0 — 0
W — Aaron Jolly (unassisted), 19:02, 1st (1-0 W)
W — Jacob Saxby (Aaron Jolly assist), 32:19, 2nd (2-0 W)
W — Chris Shiepis (unassisted), 15:33, 2nd (3-0 W)
W — Mason Nolan (penalty kick), 3:03, 2nd (4-0 W)
SHOTS — Wheelersburg 16, Minford 15
SHOTS ON GOAL — Wheelersburg 9, Minford 2
SAVES — Wheelersburg 2 (Eric Green 2), Minford 4 (Jesse Cantrell 4)
CORNER KICKS — Wheelersburg 5, Minford 4
© 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved