CHILLICOTHE — When it seemed as if Wednesday’s all-SOC II Region 11 semifinal was bound for sudden death overtime — or possibly even a penalty kick shootout — Wheelersburg freshman Nick Sylvia and his Pirate teammates had other plans.
In the 76th minute of their battle with league and county rival Minford, after a scoreless 75 proceeding minutes, Sylvia scored the eventual game-winning goal on a pass by senior Jackson Schwamburger — giving ‘Burg a 1-0 victory over the Falcons in their third meeting of the season at Chillicothe’s Herrnstein Field.
Schwamburger’s cross found Sylvia in the middle of the field and from there, the freshman does what he does best — finish.
It was Sylvia’s 43rd goal of his freshman season, and arguably the most meaningful as it lifted his Pirates to their second regional championship game in three seasons.
The assist was the senior’s 16th of the season, second most by a Pirate this campaign.
“That was a beautiful cross. I knew that I’d have to go behind the defenders on the crosses, that’s what I did,” Sylvia said. “Went on a run, stuck my foot out and it went in.”
“I just wanted to put the ball in a good position for Nick up there,” Schwamburger said. “Let him get the ball and put it in the back of the net.”
Wheelersburg and Minford tied 4-4 back on Sept. 13 during their first meeting of the year, while the Falcons earned a 2-1 road win in their regular season finale.
The team’s shared the SOC II championship trophy during the regular season and both earned victories in the district finals, setting up their final faceoff with each team’s postseason life on the line.
Entering halftime with a scoreless tie — one that would remain for another 35 minutes — Pirates coach Jon Estep told his group to be ready for when an opportunity presented itself.
“We talked about at halftime that it’s going to come down to one moment. The way these games have went, it’s going come down to one play — which team’s going to step up and take hold of that moment,” Estep said. “Jackson made a nice play down outside the 18 near the end zone, put it across and Nick was in the right spot. He was able to put a strong foot on the ball and put it about the only place you could go to score that goal. For Nick, as a freshman to be able to hit a ball like that is huge. It’s one that he’s going to remember for a long time.”
Minford coach Jacob Hackworth recalled his account of the game-winner following the contest, adding his admiration for his group for what they’ve accomplished this season.
“We got a little bit out of shape. Max found the center mid running wide, Jackson put a good ball across and Nick’s done what he’s done all year. Credit to him, it was a good play,” Hackworth said. “We had our chances and just couldn’t get it through, they had theirs and put one in the net. It’s one of those games that it sucks a team has to lose. If you want to say the better team won, the better team won. I’m proud of our guys and I know Jon’s proud of his guys. We’re going to support them — nothing to hang our heads about, we’re both champions.”
The scoreless start for both teams was a credit to knowing each other like the back of their hand, both coaches agreed afterwards.
After all, it was their third meeting in less than two months and after 240 minutes of regulation soccer, their aggregate score finished at 7-7.
“They made a few tweaks, moved some things around. It was a pretty even stalemate most of the game,” Hackworth said. “We had some really good chances, just as they did on the play they scored on. Credit to them.”
“They know us and have watched a lot of film on us, we’ve watched film on them. We knew who the key players are. In the first two games, their role guys put them in position to win the first game before we tied it up, and they did win them the game the second time. We talked about it all week, our role guys in Brody (Wilburn), Gavin (Bradley), Kayson (Whitt), Clark (Weller), how are they going to handle that? I thought they responded well today and limited their opportunities. I thought Miller (McKenzie) did a great job of slowing Myles (Montgomery) down — he’s a dynamic athlete and player. What we talked about, we executed and it put us in position to have that moment right there.”
Minford finishes their season 16-3-1 and will graduate seven seniors from their program that’s seen back-to-back SOC II district championships — a group that includes goalkeeper Cole Borland, Charlie Neal, Luke Oakes, Dylan Brooks, Luke Rader, Adam Crank, and Isaac Napier.
“This senior group means a lot to me. It’s only my second year here, but I’ve made a great relationship with these guys,” Hackworth said. “I know I’m not old enough, but kind of like a father-figure to these boys — I’d do anything for them. The work they’ve put in in the offseason, they’ve really raised the bar for this program and hopefully we can carry the bar for them.”
For the second time in three seasons, Wheelersburg will play in the Region 11 final against a more than familiar opponent — Grandview Heights.
En route to capturing the program’s first even regional championship, the Pirates defeated GH 2-1 in 2020 at Ed Miller Stadium in the regional final. Last year, GH defeated ‘Burg 1-0 in the Region 11 semis at Zane Trace HS.
Their win over the Pirates last fall propelled them to winning the Division III state championship — earning wins over Hiland (6-1) in the regional final, Madeira (2-0) in the state semis, and Crestview (4-2) in the D-III title game.
First touch between Wheelersburg and Grandview Heights is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Logan High School.
“The good thing is these guys don’t have school the next two days. Go up to Barnesville on Friday night and support the football team. And get prepared,” Estep said. “Watch some film on these two teams. We’re familiar with Grandview Heights, knowing the battles we’ve had with those guys the last two years. We beat them by one two years ago, they beat us by one last year and that was in the last seven minutes. We know it’s going to be a physical matchup with either team.”
Minford 0 0 — 0
Wheelersburg 0 1 — 1
W — Nick Sylvia (Assist by Jackson Schwamburger); 1-0 4:24 2H
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved