RUBYVILLE – Nearly six full weeks ago, way back on September 5th following his team’s 5-1 win over non-league foe Rock Hill, Valley coach Andy Johnson said one of the things he wanted his team to improve on was their ability to finish and capitalize on their opportunities.
Even a week ago when the visiting Panthers shut out Valley 1-0 in Lucasville to claim an outright SOC I title, the Indians were still plagued by their inability to finish and capitalize.
My how things can change in one week.
In addition to their 14-0 win over Westfall in the sectional semifinals, Saturday, fifth seeded Valley was able to shut out four seeded Clay, 5-0 Wednesday, to claim the school’s third consecutive Division III boys soccer sectional title, outscoring their opponents in postseason play a staggering 19-0 in the process.
“So proud of our kids,” Johnson said following Wednesday’s win. “They all fight hard, they’ve all got great attitudes, and they give all the effort they can. We came in at halftime with a 1-0 lead, and we wanted to make sure we could hold onto that lead. We came out early in the second half and got a couple goals on the board, it really energized our kids and let them play with a purpose.”
“Today‘s real tough, it’s a tough loss,” Clay coach Doug Ledingham said following Wednesday’s game. “Valley’s a great team, we wish them all the best Saturday against Wheelersburg, a team I think they can beat.”
After being held scoreless a week prior in their home loss to the Panthers, it seemed as if in their third meeting this season, Valley was determined to not play catch-up to the higher seeded Panthers.
In the 38’ of the first half, Valley junior AJ Johnson connected with sophomore Bryce Stuart on a cross which Stuart headed in to give the Indians a 1-0 lead with 78 minutes left to play.
Ultimately, Stuart’s goal would be the only goal the Indians would need thanks to the impressive goal keeping of junior Wesley Holbrook and the Indians’ backline defense of Jared Gahm, Logan Tubb, among others.
Valley would take their 1-0 lead over Clay into the halftime break.
In the two’s first meeting on Clay’s home field, Valley also held a 1-0 lead at the half, a lead the Indians would later give up to tie the host Panthers 2-2.
Sophomore Austin Sommers scored the Indians first goal of the second half with 27’ remaining in the game to put Valley ahead of Clay 2-0.
After Valley was called for a foul inside the box, Holbrook would have to defend his goal against a Bryce Toomire penalty kick at the 23’ mark of the second half, one which Holbrook would stop at his feet to preserve his shut out.
“Wesley was excellent,” Johnson said of his junior goalie. “He’s very quiet, but man does he do a great job back there; he’s one of the best in our area. The diving save in the first half was outstanding, and the PK stop: Toomire’s an excellent player, anytime you can stop one of those, it’s a big boost for the whole team.”
Less than a minute later, freshman Lucie Ashkettle made the most of her breakaway opportunity by putting a goal past Clay goalie Dakota Dodds to give her Indians a 3-0 lead with just over 20 minutes left in the match.
Senior Cameron Phillips made it 4-0 Valley with 13’ left in the match with a goal assisted by AJ Johnson.
For good measure, Sommers scored his second and the Indians’ final goal in the 79’ minute of Wednesday’s win to elevate Valley to their third straight sectional title with a 5-0 win over rival Clay.
“This is just confidence from our kids,” Johnson said when discussing his team’s goal scoring outburst that has led his team to outscore their first two postseason opponents 19-0. “We’ve got the skill, we’ve had the skill all year, we’ve just struggled to put the ball in the net. I think once you get one or two, it becomes easier. We keep telling them to keep pushing the ball up the field, be confident when you take shots on goal. Tonight, that looked a lot better for us.”
“Defensively I thought we played really well tonight,” Johnson continued. “We preached to our kids about getting a head or body on their long goal kick punts, and we did that tonight.”
Wednesday’s loss marks the end of the careers of Clay’s all-time leading goal scorer Bryce Toomire, goalie Dakota Dodds, and fellow seniors Reece Whitley, Caleb McNutt, Caden Cline, Jacob Eichenlaub, and Liam Garrison, a group that were leaders on the Panthers first SOC I championship team since 2002, and a group that means the world to Coach Doug Ledingham.
“We came up just a little bit short in what we wanted to do in a great match with Valley,” Ledingham said. “These guys mean the world to me. It’s the best group of seniors I’ve ever had. I love them very much, they deserve the best.”
With Wednesday’s win, Valley advances to Saturday’s district semifinals at Waverly where they will take on the Wheelersburg Pirates who were 2-0 winners over Zane Trace, Wednesday.
In their two matchups this season, Wheelersburg swept the season series vs. the Indians by a 6-1 margin (3-1 and 3-0 wins).
In their first meeting, both teams first game of the regular season, Valley held a 1-0 halftime lead over the Pirates before relinquishing their lead in the second half.
In last year’s Division III district semifinals, Wheelersburg defeated Valley by a score of 3-0, a result the Indians are hoping to change this season.
“We’re going to give it everything we’ve got,” Johnson said. “We were competitive both times we played, but we fell short in the second half. We want to stay with them longer coming out of half, something we weren’t able to do in our two games earlier. I think we can do it, it’s going to take a great game because Wheelersburg is an outstanding team.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved