WHEELERSBURG — When Wheelersburg and Valley meet on the soccer pitch, you’re in all likelihood headed to a tight finish — at least that’s what recent history indicates.
Saturday’s meeting between the two in a Division III district semifinal at Ed Miller Stadium proved the same.
The Indians managed to be the first club this season to hold the unbeaten Pirates scoreless at home during the first half — and did so for the game’s first 68:30.
With just 11:30 remaining in the second half and both teams playing to a 0-0 tie, Pirates senior Aaron Jolly drew a foul in the penalty box — to attempt the game’s first penalty kick.
Jolly squeezed the ball through the bottom-left corner of the net and in dramatic fashion gave Wheelersburg a 1-0 lead, seeking a return to the Division III district finals if they were able to complete the shutout.
Wheelersburg’s defense did just that.
With senior goalkeeper Eric Green and their defense barricading the net from any potential late-game scores, the Pirates finished their 13th shutout of the season as the clocks at EMS all struck zero.
“We felt coming into the game that we could compete with them,” Valley coach Andy Johnson said after the game. “We have a good group, had a good gameplan. I just hate for it to come down to a call like that that late in the game. I couldn’t be prouder of our team and how well they played — both teams played really well.”
It was the second time Wheelersburg and Valley met this season — the first meeting back on Sept. 10 when the Pirates defeated the Indians 5-0.
Wheelersburg coach Jon Estep expected to see defensive changes from his opponent, while also praising his team’s defense — and Jolly’s execution of the penalty kick in the late-game stages.
“We knew they were going to try and find ways to contain Aaron (Jolly), and they were very successful in doing that,” Estep said. “It was a lot like a game we had earlier in the year at Northwest where we waited till the final 10 minutes to score. Our defense held strong today. We were fortunate that there in the last 11 minutes to draw the foul call inside the box, and Aaron did what he’s supposed to do — steps up and makes the shot.”
It was the third straight season that the Indians and Pirates met in the Division III district semifinals — the last two each being decided by one goal (2-1 Wheelersburg on Oct. 19, 2019).
Valley’s three-man senior class consisting of A.J. Johnson, Jared Gahm and Wesley Holbrook helped lead the Indians to four straight sectional titles — and at least seven wins in each of their four seasons.
“Super proud of everything they’ve done for our program,” Johnson said. “We’ve made it here to districts four years in a row, just a really good accomplishment for them. They’re all good kids who work hard and set an example in practice — I couldn’t think of a better group of seniors.”
With the win to conclude its home season at Ed Miller Stadium and improve to 18-0-0, Wheelersburg has punched its ticket back to the Division III district finals where it will meet North Adams — 2-0 winners over South Point in its own district semifinal on Saturday.
The Green Devils — like the Indians — fell in defeat to the Pirates on their home turf during the regular season, back on Sept. 12 5-1.
A win over North Adams at the district final stage would mean the Pirates’ first district championship since 2013.
After Saturday’s win, Estep was quick to remind his team their journey and list of goals they set out to complete this season is not yet finished.
“It’s the last thing I said to them before we left the locker room,” Estep said. “Back into some territory where we had a bad taste in our mouth last year with that PK shootout loss to Lynchburg-Clay. This has been the one of two main goals — first the conference, second to get back into the district championship and to get over that hump. We’re excited to be back and have that opportunity.”
Wheelersburg will face North Adams at Waverly’s Raidiger Field for a Division III district final on Thursday at 5 p.m.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved