Boys soccer: St. Marys holds off Celina for district title

ELIDA – After suffering an early season 3-0 loss to Celina, St. Marys boys’ head soccer coach James Holtzapple got back to the fundamentals.

That strategy has paid off for the Roughriders.

In Thursday’s Division II district championship match against Celina, St. Marys kept Celina in check, en route to a hard-fought 1-0 victory against the Bulldogs at the Elida Middle School Soccer Complex.

With the district title win, St. Marys (18-2-1) advances to next Wednesday’s regional semifinal match at Clyde High School with a 7 p.m. start time. St. Marys will play the winner of the Northwest 3 district.

Celina ends its season 18-2-0.

Celina, St. Marys and Shawnee were co-champions in the Western Buckeye League this season. Shawnee was knocked out of the tournament Monday night by Celina in a district semifinal, 1-0.

Thursday night, St. Marys reeled off five shots on goal. Defensively, the Roughriders held Celina to just three shots on goal.

St. Marys’ Braden Keller scored the lone goal on the night — a long-range shot outside the box at the 27:46 mark of the second half. Teammate Bradey Triplett was credited with the assist.

Coach Holtzapple said he decided to get back to the basics, following his team’s regular-season loss to Celina.

“That (loss to Celina) was the fourth game of the year, I believe,” Holtzapple said. “When we faced them, I’ll tell you what — the boys forgot how to play, fundamentally. That 3-0 loss could have been worse.

“At that point in time, we started practicing, differently. We started focusing, basically, on the fundamentals again; and the rest of the season is what we did. I think our practices probably bored the world out of our kids. They did the same thing, over and over, and eventually got it down.”

In Thursday’s district title match, St. Marys came out aggressive, and took four shots at Celina goalkeeper Brady Steinbrunner (four saves).

However, Steinbrunner kept the Roughriders off the scoreboard in the first 40 minutes.

Finally, at the 27:46 mark of the second half, Keller shot one past Steinbrunner from long-range.

“Actually, in my mind, I was thinking that it was way too early to get that 1-0 lead,” Holtzapple said with a grin. “I think we were still looking at 27-and-a-half minutes (left in the match). So, we didn’t change anything at that time. We just needed to keep pressuring, and mark on defense.”

Celina managed just one shot on goal in the first half. In the second half, the Bulldogs got off two shots toward St. Marys goalkeeper Cayden Ballweg (three saves).

“The first game (against Celina), we didn’t mark well at all,” Holtzapple said. “They (Celina) scored on three set pieces. This game, we marked beautifully. … Those are one of those fundamentals. This was 80 minutes of pure effort, tonight. These boys just impressed the world out of me.”

St. Marys took eight corner kicks, while Celina took four corner kicks on the night.

“We had a game plan, coming into this,” Holtzapple said. “We knew they were an awesome defense. We knew they were a powerful offense. So, we had a plan in mind on how we could counter that. The boys did it to a tee. … They did a fantastic job.

“They use a sweeper, which is very uncommon. But with them using a sweeper, we had to adjust to that. So, basically, we had to keep somebody up there the whole time. I personally feel like it threw them off a little bit. But again, they’re phenomenal. So, if it threw them off at all, you couldn’t even tell, because they’re such a good team. I do want to thank Celina for being such a fantastic team.”

A sweeper is a defensive player – usually positioned behind the defensive line – whose primary role is to provide coverage for the other defenders by sweeping up balls that get by them.

The tough loss ends a stellar season for Celina.

“Both teams battled,” Celina head coach Ryan Jenkins said. “St. Marys had that revenge factor against us. We got them earlier (in the regular season). And they (St. Marys) played well. We wish them well. We hope they keep going and get the next game. It’s just unfortunate for our 11 seniors. … This is a hard night as a coach because they put so much work in. It ends tonight, but at the same time, we told them to keep their heads high. They had a great year. I’d take these guys over anyone else.”

Match summary

SOG: St. Marys – 5; Celina – 3

Assists: St. Marys – Bradey Triplett 1

Goals: St. Marys – Braden Keller 1

Corner Kicks: St. Marys – 8; Celina 4

Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.