WAVERLY — Eventually, hopefully, one of those so many South Webster shots was going to go in.
Finally, and to the relief of South Webster coach Corey Claxon and even the Jeep fans, two of them did.
Because, at that point, you felt like any stress upon the Jeeps was finally off — and their fourth consecutive Division III Southeast District boys soccer championship was in the bag.
Thanks to two second-half goals in a matter of six-and-a-half minutes, the Jeeps marched on — and ensured their return to the regional tournament — with a 2-0 triumph over Ironton St. Joseph on Thursday in the district championship tilt at Waverly’s Raidiger Field.
With the win, the Jeeps are now 15-3-1, and — more importantly — are Division III district champions for the fourth year in a row.
“It’s exciting to be going back to the ‘Sweet 16’. You have good senior classes and you rely on them, but then you look at your underclassmen to step up. We have had a couple times now where we had a good senior class and had to respond the next season without them. They’ve done it. I am proud of these guys. They have worked hard,” said Claxon. “With the way the draw went, we are trying to take advantage of it and see how far we can go.”
They will now face Lynchburg-Clay in the regional semifinals on Wednesday, as the Mustangs needed not only overtime, but the final kick of a penalty-kick shootout to defeat Wheelersburg in Thursday’s other Southeast District final at Waverly.
Despite St. Joseph’s confirmed 16-2-0 record entering the district championship, the Jeeps had played a much more challenging schedule — both in the larger-school Southern Ohio Conference Division II and in the non-league.
The prevailing thought was once the Jeeps got a goal, they could get several, and that the longer St. Joseph hung around, the more confident they got and the Jeeps would get frustrated.
South Webster wasn’t happy with its first-half performance, despite keeping possession for the overwhelming majority and not allowing anything from the Flyers, which were credited with only a single shot by junior Jackson Rowe for the entire match.
Claxon said his charges settled for too many outside shots, but to just keep firing at Flyers’ goalkeeper Jimmy Malhmeister.
“We came off the field frustrated a little bit from the first half, just for not being able to knock one in. We tried to tell them to just relax, keep hammering away and eventually, we will break the ice,” said the coach.
The Jeeps almost did just that only a minute-and-a-half into the second half, when a shot from the side-pocket appeared to slip through the top of the net, but Mahlmeister actually knocked the ball into the football crossbar instead of the soccer goal — and it came back down through.
The goal wasn’t allowed for the football crossbar is considered out of bounds, so the anxiety on the part of the Jeeps continued to grow.
That was until the halfway point — with 20 minutes and 13 seconds remaining to be exact.
And, it was a trademark Jeep marker.
South Webster likes to work the ball from the side down into the corner and across the goalbox in front of the goal, and Gavin Bennett got it in from the side to Gabe Ruth, who quickly one-touched it to Trae Zimmerman directly in front.
“Anything can happen when we bring the ball down the side and back across the front of the goal. It was a good job on Gavin’s part to get the ball down and across there, and Trae was able to knock it in,” said Claxon.
Zimmerman made the shot, and Claxon and the Jeep faithful finally exhaled.
“It was just such a relief, such excitement for players and coaches alike when we finally got that first goal. I mean, I felt like at this point, we got this game. We had worked so hard for 60 minutes, it was so good to finally see that rewarded on the scoreboard,” said Claxon. “At that point, we opened things up and got one more — almost a couple more. It was just a great feeling to finally get that first goal.”
Which ultimately led to the second tally at the 13:56 mark, as the Jeeps continued to deny the Flyers much possession beyond the midfield.
On the second marker, following a Jeep throw-in and a couple bounces, Ruth cut a kick around an on-rushing Flyer defender, took the shot and back-right cornered it beyond Mahlmeister.
“When you get one goal, the other team has to push a little bit more. It really opens things up, instead of staying back and holding out for the tie. They were in a position where they had to go make something happen. It opens up space, and a lot of times you get goals that way,” said Claxon. “That was the case here.”
Later on, the Jeeps almost had a third goal — but they were whistled for being offsides.
Still, South Webster rang up 17 shots including nine on goal, as Bennett booted six shots — with Zimmerman and Ruth recording four shots apiece with three of those coming on goal.
Tryston Robinson took two shots, as he and Bennett both had one on goal apiece.
Mahlmeister made seven saves, as the Jeeps also amassed eight corner kicks compared to only one for the Flyers.
The Flyers finished with five fouls, while South Webster was called for two.
Claxon said his Jeeps had to account for three standout St. Joseph players — Rowe and seniors Zach Roach and Ryan Payne.
“They had a good year and a good team,” said the coach of St. Joseph. “We played it safe on defense, stayed back a little more. That stretched the field out and made for more running, but that’s what we had to do. Our defense was strong.”
And, it played pressure-free once the Jeep offense finally got that one goal.
The Jeeps tied the Mustangs 1-1 in the regular-season — a non-league affair on the grass surface of Lynchburg-Clay at the end of September.
But come the end of October, on Wednesday at 7 p.m., the regional semifinal will take place on FieldTurf — and Waverly was believed to be, as of Thursday night, the host site.
“We tied Lynchburg-Clay 1-1, so this will be a good matchup and a good opportunity to settle that score,” said Claxon. “But tonight, you better believe we are excited to win our fourth district championship in a row.”
* * *
Ironton St. Joe 0 0 — 0
South Webster 0 2 — 2
SW — Trae Zimmerman (Gabe Ruth assist), 20:13, 2nd (1-0 SW)
SW — Gabe Ruth (unassisted), 13:56, 2nd (2-0 SW)
SHOTS — Ironton St. Joseph 1, South Webster 17 (9 on goal)
SAVES — Ironton St. Joseph 7 (Jimmy Mahlmeister 7), South Webster 0
CORNER KICKS — Ironton St. Joseph 1, South Webster 8
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved