BLUFFTON — The head coaches from Shawnee and Bluffton knew what they were in for in Saturday afternoon’s matchup of area boys soccer powerhouses.
The match lived up to the hype.
When the Indians scored at 12:49 of the second half, that gave the impetus toward a 2-1 victory over the Pirates at Steinmetz Field on a brilliant early-fall day.
“This is a gauge game. We know that Bluffton will always give us a high-quality matchup this late in the season,” Shawnee head coach Ryan Quatman said. “That’s why we schedule them this late in the season, to see where we stand with the tournament right around the corner. It’s a good matchup, win or lose, because it doesn’t count in your league standings but gives you a good idea of what you need to address going forward.”
Bluffton head man Stephen Smucker agreed.
“You have two of the area’s better teams going at it in a matchup like this and you find out what you need to work on going into the tournament. I don’t necessarily worry about the results at this point in the season,” Smucker said. “Sure, you’d like to win the game but what I want to see is how hard do we compete, especially when we’re down or it’s tied. Are we throwing in the towel or do we keep fighting is what I want to know?”
After a scoreless first half which saw the Indians (14-1-0) have the better scoring opportunities but with no score to show for it, they broke through at the 35:38 mark of the second half. With Carter Jensen launching a free kick near midfield, he found Jacob Miller near the top of the 18-yard box. The sophomore 1-touched it from 20 yards past Pirate goalkeeper Nic Essinger (8 saves versus 10 shots on-goal) and into the left side of the net for a 1-0 edge.
The Pirates (11-2-1), who had four of their five shots on-goal for the match in the second half, set about trying to score the equalizer.
They had a prime chance at 26:02 when Jayden Mays maneuvered on the left doorstep for a 4-yard try but Indians’ goalkeeper Landon Hoehn (4 saves) came up with the stop.
Not so on their next attempt. This time, Andrew Heldman found Jon Schriner open down the middle; he dribbled within 10 yards and beat Hoehn from the left to the right for a 1-all tie.
The Indians got the match-winner at 12:49. Jensen again had the assist, finding Miller at the top of the box and the lefty went to the right side from 17 yards for a 2-1 scoreboard.
“We had some good chances in the first half but couldn’t convert. Once we started to find our marks in the second half, we had better chances,” Quatman said. “The one main thing I take out of this game is we need to do a better job of finding our marks in the first half. I would like to see the kids do better at making that adjustment on their own before we have to use halftime to make that change. I tend to focus more on one area of the matchup instead of having a better look at the total game.”
Smucker also felt his team had some chances but couldn’t get there.
“We had a couple of great looks but couldn’t come through. Games like this can come down to 10 or 15 minutes that can swing it one way or the other,” Smucker said. “There are always ways you can improve technically and strategically. You want to keep getting better and that is what can happen when you play games like this late in the season. You find out the areas you need to work on and get better at when you play a great team like this. We were right threre.”
The Pirates had one more chance to tie the matchup as Jude Spallinger had a 16-yarder but was denied by Hoehn with 4:50 left in the contest.
In the first half, the Indians had seven shots on-goal, with the best being at 31:00 as Jensen tried a 40-yard free kick but Hoehn came with the diving stop and at 3:43 when Miller tried a 20-yarder that deflected off a defender and into the arms of Essinger.
At 5:20, Miller tried a header from 10 yards off a corner kick but with Essinger coming out, he was over the top.
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0468.