WAVERLY — Apparently, at least on one rainy Wednesday night anyway when it mattered most, a group of Jeeps can outrun — and outwork — some Mustangs.
As a result, South Webster proved itself among the “Elite” in Division III boys soccer for 2019.
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, the Jeeps scored a pair of second-half goals in a span of 21 minutes and eight seconds — and advanced to their third regional championship match in school history, after edging Lynchburg-Clay 2-1 in a semifinal tilt inside rain-soaked Raidiger Field in Waverly.
Indeed, the Jeeps were undeterred especially in the second half, as they cut through the downpour, cut the Mustangs’ early advantage out, and cut a rug to the regional final for the second time in three years.
After battling through the first-half’s driving rain, the regional level’s traditional physical play and the Mustangs getting a goal from a corner kick, South Webster went right at Lynchburg-Clay for the final 55 minutes.
The persistence paid off in the form of two goals, as the Jeeps’ equalizer occurred on a corner kick just four-and-a-half minutes into the second half — followed by a 25-yard blast by standout senior Gavin Bennett with 14:25 to play.
South Webster then went into defensive mode, as the Mustangs made multiple attempts at Jeep freshman goalkeeper Jaren Lower, who late in the match even appeared to suffer from leg cramps and had a difficult time even standing.
But Lower saved high and scooped up low every single shot which came his way, including falling on the ball — and covering it up — as the final 10 seconds ticked away to a South Webster win.
With the victory, the Jeeps raised their record to 16-3-1 and, more importantly, advanced to Saturday’s regional championship match.
South Webster will face Columbus Wellington — the fifth-ranked team in Division III boys per the state soccer coaches’ association final poll.
Wellington, in Wednesday night’s other regional semifinal, was a 3-0 shutout winner over Berlin Hiland at Lakewood High School.
The Jeeps will aim for a measure of revenge against a Central Ohio squad, as they lost the Division III regional championship two years ago against Grandview Heights.
This is their second straight campaign of at least 16 victories, as last season’s squad won 19 times before falling 1-0 to Berlin Hiland in the regional semifinal.
South Webster, with coach Corey Claxon at the helm, has captured four consecutive Division III Southeast District championships.
But now it eyes a regional title, and getting to the title clash was a matter of overcoming awful weather conditions for 80 minutes — combined with getting knocked around and down against the Mustangs for a half.
Claxon said his Jeeps were exhausted, but indeed were elated.
“Our guys really stepped up in the second half. It was just a great effort. They just busted their butts and were completely wore out after the game,” said the coach. “Lynchburg-Clay is a real finesse team, and these conditions may have played to our advantage where we are getting after it a little bit more and pressing fast. We got in several times, got the ball across the middle and stuff happens.”
What happened was Bennett, the speedy all-Southeast District Division III second-team forward, bounced back with the go-ahead — and ultimately game-winning — goal with 14-and-a-half minutes remaining.
Bennett had taken a physical pounding from the bigger Mustangs, knocked to the ground on multiple instances, including twice in the second half in which it originally appeared he may have been injured.
But a handball call in the goalbox on the Mustangs with 22 minutes remaining gave the Jeeps a penalty-kick opportunity — with the score tied at 1-1.
However, Lynchburg-Clay senior keeper Gavin Stroop saved Bennett’s attempt — actually stopping the down-the-center shot with his right foot before diving forward and corralling the ball with both hands.
It was Stroop’s second such stop on a penalty kick in the postseason tournament, as the Mustangs won their first district championship in school history a week ago — defeating Wheelersburg in a penalty-kicks shootout.
But Bennett’s blast from 25 yards out only seven-and-a-half minutes later was not going to be stopped by Stroop — or likely by anybody else.
A ball bounced off a Mustang defender directly to Bennett, who took one touch and rocketed a hard shot into the net for the 2-1 lead.
“At halftime, Gavin (Bennett) was the one saying that we had to stay positive and that we were going to get this done. That kind of mentality obviously paid off because he stayed in it and made up for it (penalty kick),” said Claxon. “And he just hit a great shot. It might have deflected right to his feet, but he cleaned it up and made a great shot. He’s capable of doing that because he is very skilled.”
Claxon continued by explaining that the Jeeps scored, in part, because they “kept pushing forward with three guys pressing against their back four.”
South Webster was able to flip the majority of the second half into its offensive third, and got the tying goal only four-and-a-half minutes in following a corner kick.
The Jeeps sailed the kick in front of the net, as Aiden Andrews amassed the goal off a Brice Robnett assist.
“Corner kicks are dangerous opportunities,” said Claxon. “Our goal on that is to just send it in front of the box because anything can happen. We got it in front of the goal and knocked it in, and that gave us momentum.”
That momentum carried through to Bennett’s big goal, and then late as the Jeeps had to defend even tighter for the final 14:25.
South Webster was substituting more frequently due to fatigue setting in, and the ball bouncing more on the slippery FieldTurf surface allowed for the greater possibility of attempts going in unexpectedly.
But Lower collected every ball that rolled right to him, many of which were loose and in need of securing.
“There were a few balls sent in, and you don’t know how the ball is going to skip on this turf every time down. He played them well and did his job and our defense did its job,” said Claxon. “We had to bring guys in late because we were starting to get tired. It was just an all-around good effort.”
Wednesday’s wet Waverly regional resembled nothing like the 1-1 draw the two teams played to at Lynchburg-Clay in late September.
That was on a natural-grass surface, and under sunny skies.
And, of course, had nothing near the stakes of which Wednesday night’s rematch had.
“That was a completely different game on a shorter natural-grass field,” said Claxon. “This was much faster-paced, and I thought Lynchburg-Clay moved the ball much better tonight than they on their home field.”
The Mustangs managed their goal with 15 minutes and 15 seconds to play in the opening half — and off a corner kick when Blake Marcelino missed right in front by hitting the crossbar, but recovered by touching once to Connor Tyree.
Tyree took one shot at point-blank range right past Lower for the 1-0 lead.
“Their goal was a nice goal. We had him marked. That’s one of their best players. He just got up and over and scored that,” said Claxon. “But we weren’t panicking or were real nervous. I think we remained pretty calm. We just told them the second half, there was a lot of time, we can come back and win this.”
That the Jeeps did, thanks to the two second-half goals as they cut through the rain, and outran — and even outworked — the Mustangs.
Lynchburg-Clay concluded its season at 13-5-2.
The physical and intense match featured four yellow cards, three on the Mustangs, as South Webster junior Stephen Smith suffered a broken nose just 11 minutes and seven seconds in — and was taken to a Waverly-area medical facility for 0bservation.
“Both teams turned it up in intensity and stepped it up a few notches. Lynchburg-Clay is a good team that took down Wheelersburg with penalty kicks, and they were right there tonight where this could have went either way,” said Claxon. “But we’re moving on and it feels great.”
Fortunately for the Jeeps, it went theirs, as they play talented and highly-touted Wellington on Saturday at Chillicothe’s Herrnstein Field — for a shot at the coveted state tournament.
First kick is tentatively set for 3 p.m.
“Wellington is extremely talented and one of the best teams in the state. We’ve seen them play twice. It’s going to be a tough game for us. We’re going to have to make some adjustments and really come up with a strategy that’s going to help us hang in that match. We’re going to have our hands full, but that is to be expected when you are playing some of the best teams from Central Ohio,” said Claxon. “But you have to play the game, and we’ll see what we can do.”
* * *
South Webster 0 2 — 2
Lynchburg-Clay 1 0 — 1
L-C — Connor Tyree (Blake Marcelino assist), 15:15, 1st (1-0 L-C)
SW — Aiden Andrews (Brice Robnett assist), 35:33, 2nd (1-1 tie)
SW — Gavin Bennett (unassisted), 14:25, 2nd (2-1 SW)
SHOTS — South Webster 7, Lynchburg-Clay 11
SHOTS ON GOAL — South Webster 3, Lynchburg-Clay 6
SAVES — South Webster 5 (Jaren Lower 5), Lynchburg-Clay 1 (Gavin Stroop 1)
CORNER KICKS — South Webster 3, Lynchburg-Clay 3
FOULS — South Webster 11, Lynchburg-Clay 12
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