SOUTH WEBSTER — The first meeting of the season between two of the Southeast District’s perennial Division III programs lived up to the billing.
Although the Wheelersburg Pirates were tasked with replacing key players from their regional champion team last fall, they’ve seen strong performances from their players who had the experience of competing in a state semifinal run.
Wheelersburg has started off their 2021 season with wins over West and South Webster in SOC II play.
In Thursday’s 5-3 road win over South Webster, the Pirates (2-0) saw their first four goals come off either the foot or head of sophomore Max Hagans.
Hagans had a hat trick in the game’s first 31 minutes and scored again in the first two minutes of the second half to give his Pirates a 4-2 lead.
Wheelersburg coach Jon Estep says the increase in goal scoring from Hagans is a credit to his work in the offseason entering this fall.
“Max was outstanding for us tonight, he made big plays when we needed them. He has put a lot work into his game to take on a bigger role for us this year to go along with the experience he gained from last season,” Estep said. “I did not expect him to put up four goals but we will take it.”
The Pirates defeated West 15-0 on Tuesday in their season opener, making their margin of victory through two games a distinct 20-3.
On Thursday it was Hagans carrying the goal-scoring load, but on Tuesday, 10 different Pirates scored, including Nathan Sylvia’s hat trick.
“Offensively we have been pleased with the output we have received from our guys throughout the preseason and now beginning of the regular season,” Estep said. “We need to tighten some things up in other areas but we know it’s early and our guys will be receptive to our adjustments.”
South Webster kept with the Pirates for a large chunk of Thursday’s game, matching their scoring through the first 34 minutes.
A free kick goal from near midfield by Zander Rawlins put the Jeeps on the scoreboard shortly after Hagans’ first goal. Within a minute of Rawlins’ score, Connor Bender found the back of the net to make it 2-1 Jeeps.
The next three goals came in a span of 17 minutes by Hagans and South Webster was never able to recover.
“I guess this was a high scoring game with lots of action, but unfortunately we were giving up more goals than we were scoring,” Jeeps coach Corey Claxon said, afterwards. “We responded well after being down by two goals as Zander sent a long direct free kick into their penalty box. Connor challenged for the ball, but it went past him and the keeper resulting in a goal for Zander. It wasn’t long before we put together a few passes from Brody to Shupert to Connor. Connor dribbled down the right side and scored on a good shot to tie the game. Things were going better, but we gave up another goal before the half.”
Bender cut the Pirates’ lead to 4-3 at the 48-minute mark on a goal assisted by Bryson Hanley to bring them within one.
But, the comeback effort would fall short as Wheelersburg wasn’t finished scoring.
The Jeeps were without two starters for their home opener against the Pirates, and Claxon is hopeful they’re able to learn from the early-season league loss. SW (0-2) travels to Jackson on Saturday before a stretch of five-straight home games.
“In the 2nd half we gave up another goal within the first two minutes. That really hurt. We eventually scored again as Connor received a pass down the middle from Bryson and beat the keeper to make it 4-3. We knew we had to push forward to score but once again they battled for another goal of their own,” Claxon said. “I think our overall problem tonight was a lack of intensity going for the ball. It’s unfortunate that were playing without two starters, and we had guys playing in spots that they were not used to playing, but there is no excuse for not challenging for the ball. It’s a frustrating loss, but there’s no time to rest as we prepare for Jackson on Saturday.”
Braxton Rase scored with 14 minutes to play in the game on an assist by Jackson Scwamburger. Schwamburger assisted on three Pirate goals in the victory, while Connor Estep assisted on two.
Off to a 2-0 start, Wheelersburg will continue on its’ current three-game road stand by travelling to Zane Trace and Waverly.
League games against the Tigers, Northwest, Minford, and a non-league home game against Valley will help provide some clarity for the Pirates and their continuing development of their players, Estep believes.
“This stretch will provide an outlook of what the second half of the conference will shape up to be,” Estep said. “We need to continue to become stronger as a unit, understand roles, continue to get in better shape and see what type of depth we have moving forward in certain areas. We are excited about what’s in front of us as the season continues.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved