LUCASVILLE — With so many recent meetings, the Valley Indians indeed wanted —and arguably even needed — a victory over the nemesis Wheelersburg Pirates.
Leave it to their lucky number seventh encounter since the opening of the 2018 soccer season —as the Indians did two things to the defending Division III regional champion Pirates that hadn’t been done in two full calendar years.
One was Wheelersburg being shut out, while two was emphatically snapping its 27-match regular-season win streak.
That’s because Valley, with one first-half goal and two second-half markers in the opening 18 minutes, vanquished the visiting Pirates 3-0 on Tuesday evening in an intriguing non-league affair on The Reservation.
And yes, you read that correct —Wheelersburg was a winner of 27 regular-season matches in a row.
The win was also Valley’s first, in fact, over the Orange and Black since clear back in 2012.
“I am very happy with this result, and couldn’t be more proud of these guys and girls,” said first-year Valley head coach Jacob Perry. “Wheelersburg is still a very good team, so this is a great win for us going forward.”
The 21-1 Pirates of 2020 won all 16 of their regular affairs en route to their first-ever regional championship —and had started this season 4-0, with all triumphs occurring inside the Southern Ohio Conference Division II.
Wheelersburg almost reached two full calendar years to the day since a regular-season defeat —that last happening before Tuesday on Sept. 12, 2019, when Minford won at Wheelersburg with a 3-2 final.
The experienced Indians, despite a full two-week layoff since their last match, already owned two wins over SOC II teams in South Webster and Northwest, but wanted Wheelersburg with a big prize —knocking the new-look Pirates down a peg while moving to 3-0.
They did just that, as Tuesday’s tilt was their seventh matchup in four years —as Wheelersburg has ended Valley’s season in three consecutive Division III district semifinals bouts, including last season’s 1-0 epic at Ed Miller Stadium in Wheelersburg.
Those powerhouse Pirates got a late-game goal on the home turf, but Wheelersburg was significantly impacted by graduation losses —while the Indians only lost three seniors.
And, experience showed up on Tuesday, as Valley attacked the Pirates with regularity —playing most of the final 25 to 30 minutes of the opening half on its offensive end.
Then, with 17 minutes and 17 seconds remaining, a sprinting senior Chase Ruby rang one up past Pirate goalkeeper Gavin Rase —right directly into the lower-left 90, and off an excellent assist from Lucie Ashkettle.
But, the junior wing Ashkettle — always out there bodying up amongst the boys and not backing down in the least —wasn’t finished.
Only three minutes into the second half, she assisted again —this time to senior striker Austin Sommers, who took an Ashkettle cross from his right, made three dribbles with the ball off his right foot, and rocketed one past Rase into the lower-right corner.
“Our three goals materialized because we were working hard and/or being in the right position,” said Perry.
The coach also discussed the importance of not giving the Pirates an inch —an even taking a country mile.
“We played well in the first half, got a goal, but we had a lot of things to improve on. The main thing going out for the second half was to not let up. We couldn’t let up at any moment. Eighty minutes is supposed to be played from the first whistle to the last whistle. We did that,” explained Perry. “Sometimes, we can have moments of letdown. Sometimes we came out flat last year, and the kids didn’t like that feeling. So they came out tonight and did a great job.”
That includes Ashkettle, arguably the best female high school soccer player in all of Scioto County.
“Lucie comes out here, plays against one of the best boys teams in the area, and doesn’t back down a bit from it. Sometimes she had two guys marking her tonight. She still gets two assists,” praised Perry. “In my opinion, she is one of the better players on our team, and is especially one of the best girls soccer players around.”
As for the Pirates, they started slow in both halves —and trailing 2-0 only three minutes and 16 seconds into the second stanza really put them behind the eight-ball.
Wheelersburg coach Jon Estep said his Pirates practiced rather ragged and sluggish on Monday, and it carried over into Tuesday.
That didn’t bode well going up against a veteran Valley unit.
“They are a good team and we knew that coming into it. They are a veteran team and a physical team and they have skilled players up top that have been good players here for the past few years. We knew we had to play well. They were going to be coming for us after last year. We knew that if we didn’t come out and start well, it was going to be difficult for us to win,” said Estep. “You have to give Valley credit. They were the first ones to the ball and we were timid. Their guys were ready and played well. They wanted to win and we played not to lose. The first half was fairly even, but they started to get a push and you can only sustain so much. They got one in the back of the net and went up 1-0 at half. Both teams only had a couple of looks, but they were able to capitalize. In the second half, we started out the first three or four minutes with the ball on our side, but we had nothing to show for it. When they got that second goal, it broke our back.”
If that second goal didn’t do the trick, then the third with only 22 minutes remaining indeed did.
A Wheelersburg defender was trying to make a stand against a hard-charging Chase Powell, but the ball bounced off him — and accidentally into the net for an own goal.
The Pirates actually held a slim 7-6 advantage in shots on goal, but the Indians made the most of their opportunities —while Chris Queen came up with critical second-half saves.
Perhaps his final first-half stop, a high-leaping grab of a Pirate shot with only 10 tics to go to preserve the 1-0 intermission edge, was his best.
Queen replaced the graduated Wesley Holbrook as the Indians’ netminder.
“Chris has come a long way this year after being our backup keeper last year. He has impressed us all throughout the summer, he stays late after practice working with our other goalkeepers. And he’s athletic. He can jump up and get the ball. He’s made some big saves already this year, and did again tonight,” said Perry. “Couldn’t ask any more from him. Proud of his progress and where he’s going.”
Speaking of progress, these particular Pirates —the defending SOC II champions — are a work in such, according to Estep.
Overcoming adverse situations such as Tuesday’s is going to be a focal practice point, prior to their home match next Tuesday (Sept. 14) night against undefeated Minford.
In the bigger picture, the Indians and Pirates could play again —in the Southeast District Division III tournament.
“This group hasn’t faced much adversity. This was the first time we have been down all year. We knew at some point it was going to come, but we just didn’t know when. We didn’t step up to the challenge today,” said Estep. “Last year’s group, I knew how they were going to handle it. Those things, with this team, we still have to figure out. We have to find a way to get tougher, be better on the back end, find a way to fight through some of these adverse moments, and become better because of this match.”
The Indians, on the other hand, aim to avoid a letdown as they open SOC I action on Thursday — at Clay.
First touch is set for 5:30 p.m.
Valley’s schedule shifts into high gear following 15 days off, but a long-awaited win over Wheelersburg will always aid in going forward.
“This gives us a lot of confidence and momentum moving into league play and with our schedule speeding up a lot,” said Perry. “I’m excited to see what the rest of this season has for us.”
* * *
Wheelersburg 0 0 — 0
Valley 1 2 — 3
V — Chase Ruby (Lucie Ashkettle assist), 17:17, 1st (1-0 V)
V — Austin Sommers (Lucie Ashkettle assist), 36:44, 2nd (2-0 V)
V — own goal (Chase Powell assist), 22:00, 2nd (3-0 V)
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved