LYNCHBURG — While Election Day votes are still being counted, it was quite easy to tabulate what the Wheelersburg Pirates (20-0-0) would need to do to advance to just their second regional final in program history.
Trailing host Lynchburg-Clay (14-4-1) by one at the break after a Connor Tyree goal, the Pirates knew they needed to keep the Mustangs scoreless the entire second half — as well as put up two goals of their own to come away with a win in regulation.
Some may have thought that too tall of a task against the two-time defending Division III district champ on their home field, but not Wheelersburg.
Instead, an equalizing goal from senior Lane Jordan and the go-ahead score by senior Logan Davis had the Pirates celebrating their first berth in a regional final since 1994 — with a 2-1 revenge win on the Mustangs’ home field.
“I don’t know if we were still on the bus in the first half, but we didn’t come out with a lot energy,” Wheelersburg coach Jon Estep said. “Halftime speech was that our back is against the wall and that we’ve been here before. At that point, there’s guys that want to play in this game and there’s guys that fold under pressure in this game. What are we going to? We’re 19-and-a-half games in, and at this point, we haven’t folded all year.”
Rather than folding facing a 1-0 halftime deficit, the Pirates went all-in on lineup changes that ultimately proved crucial in the narrow win.
With the school’s career goal-scoring leader, senior Aaron Jolly, drawing the ire of several L-C defenders over the course of the first half, Estep made the decision to bring Jolly outside — thus opening the middle of the field for his fellow seniors to take advantage.
“Made a formation switch to put Aaron Jolly out wide, we felt like he didn’t get a ton of touches in the first half because they were clogging him up in the middle,” Estep said. “Lane has speed, told him they’re going to put him into position and all he needed to do was finish. He got one to go there on a nice ball from Aaron, and I think that relaxed us a bit.”
Jolly assisted on the game-tying goal scored by Jordan — one that neither is soon likely to forget.
Coming just 6:55 into the second half of play, Jordan’s equalizer was quick — and exactly what the Pirates needed coming out of the halftime break.
“First half we weren’t really in the game yet,” Jordan said. “At halftime we talked about what we needed to do, just encouraged to go out on the field and get a couple of scores on the board.”
Davis scored to give the Pirates their 2-1 lead at the 13:52 mark of the second half — less than seven minutes after Jordan’s game-tying score.
For the final 26:08, Wheelersburg held Lynchburg-Clay’s scoring opportunities to a minimum.
Knowing the result of last season’s Division III district final between the two — a 3-2 L-C shootout win over the Pirates that ended their season — Estep said it was imperative for his team to hold onto their one-goal lead and avoid another overtime situation.
By game’s end, the Pirates did just that — limiting the Mustangs to Tyree’s goal at the 27:29 mark of the first half as their only score.
“That last five minutes was pretty crazy,” Estep said. “Them being the lower seed and on their home field, they have nothing to lose. To know that we had to go into that situation with them last year, it was very important for us to get out of here in regulation.”
Now, Wheelersburg is one win away from its deepest finish in program history.
Just once before has the Wheelersburg boys soccer program advanced to a regional final, the last time being 26 years earlier.
The Pirates will have to make a much shorter drive for their regional final contest, earning the home-team designation in the OHSAA’s postseason format for the regional tournament stage.
Wheelersburg will welcome Central District champion Grandview Heights (13-3-4) to Ed Miller Stadium for a Division III regional final on Saturday (Nov. 7).
Interestingly enough, the Pirates and Bobcats do have one common opponent — Lynchburg-Clay.
The Mustangs traveled to Grandview Heights for a regular-season contest on Oct. 10 — an 8-2 win for the host Bobcats.
A win over GH would put Wheelersburg into the D3 state semifinals for the first time, and it couldn’t have asked for a better place to try and earn that opportunity.
“As it was getting closer with the season we’ve had, we knew there was a legit shot,” Estep said. “To now say that we get to host it on our home field, we couldn’t ask for a better situation. We know that our fans are going to come out — our community is really strong and very supportive over all our programs. The weather’s going to beautiful, get to do it on our home field — it’s going to be a day to remember.”
“We need to be more prepared,” Jordan said, looking ahead. “Stay focused, keep our formation, and stay in the game.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved