By Josh Brown
BELLEFONTAINE — For Troy to enjoy its first-ever undefeated regular season, it took plenty of talent, work, determination … and, coach Richard Phillips admitted, a bit of luck here and there.
Monday night, it took luck switching sides to end the Trojans’ season.
The fourth-seeded Troy boys soccer team could only watch as second-seeded Springboro cashed in a rebound after a shot hit the crossbar and bounced right to a player with a wide-open look at the goal, the only time either team found the net in a hard-fought Division I sectional championship matchup Monday night at Bellefontaine High School as the Panthers held off the Trojans 1-0 to put an and to Troy’s stellar season.
The Trojans finished the year 16-1-2, winning their first eight games before a tie against Greenville. A tie against Tippecanoe was the last blemish in the regular season as Troy built momentum and got even stronger once the tournament began, entering Monday on a five-game winning streak after defeating Fairmont — the team that eliminated the Trojans from the tournament last year — 2-1 in the sectional semifinal on Saturday.
“This is difficult for us,” Phillips said. “Because the way we’ve been playing our last few matches, especially in the tournament, coming into tonight we were pretty confident of what we could accomplish. In the regular season, going 14-0-2, there was a little bit of luck in there, as well, in some of those matches. That’s the way the game goes. It’s unpredictable at times. You need a little luck at times, and that’s how the season went for us.
“When we got into the postseason, the guys playing together for so many matches, they were confident coming into tonight that they could come in here and come out with a positive result.”
For a half, Troy seemed poised to do just that.
Play was fairly even through the game’s first 40 minutes, with both teams making runs but neither defense allowing any good looks at the net. Springboro (9-5-4) had a corner kick, a free kick from just outside the box and a 30-yard shot all sail wide in the game’s first 10 minutes, and Troy’s Grant Holland had a pair of breakaway attempts cut off before he could get a shot off.
With 27 minutes to go in the first half, Troy had a free kick from 25 yards out deflected wide, and the Trojans couldn’t get anything out of a corner kick attempt a minute later. But with 17 minutes to go in the first half, Holland had the best scoring chance for either team, fighting his way through a defender to get a pressured shot in front of the goal, but the ball rolled wide left by a foot.
From there, Troy had a couple of other chances, a couple times with Holland getting cut off on breakaway attempts and once with him dishing to Henry Shaneyfelt in the center of the field, only to have the shot blocked by a defender’s shoulder, very nearly a handball in the box. The Panthers, meanwhile, hit the crossbar with a pair of 25-yard shots, including one in the half’s final minute, but the game remained tied 0-0 at the break.
“They had two or three people on Grant most of the night,” Phillips said. “They tried to shut him down. We still had opportunities to get on goal. It just didn’t happen.
“Springboro is a good team. A big, physical team, they strike the ball well, they move well without the ball. Coming in, we couldn’t match up with them physically, but we felt like we could get the counterattack on them, and we had a few chances.”
A mere 1:12 into the second half, Springboro took advantage of some luck.
Christian Wright fired off a 25-yard shot that Troy goalkeeper Troy Breisch jumped up and deflected, with it hitting the crossbar — the third time the Panthers did that in the match. But this time, it fell right in front of Jake Langenderfer, who had gotten behind the defense and put home a chip shot for a goal to give Springboro a 1-0 lead with 38:48 left to play.
“If you look at the goal they scored, it was a nice shot and a nice save by Troy,” Phillips said. “But the rebound … yeah, it takes some luck, and that’s what happened. They had one shot on goal, and they capitalized on it.”
Troy had a few chances late in the game to even things up, but Springboro goalkeeper Jack Steele was up to the task. With 12 minutes to play, Tyler Mauk took a high shot on a 30-yard free kick that Steele jumped up to push over the bar, and the Trojans still trailed.
With 1:47 to go, Holland was tripped up on a breakaway, giving him a free kick from just outside the box. His shot was right at Steele, though, and the Trojans saw one final scrum in front of the goal cleared out of bounds in the final minute as the clock wound down.
“Yeah, he put his head down after that,” Phillips said of Holland’s free kick. “But you can’t blame him for this one. Grant has had a terrific season for us. He carried us in a lot of matches. He’s going to be missed tremendously.”
It was the final match for 11 Troy seniors — Holland, Shaneyfelt, Mauk, Breisch, Brandon Lewis, Collin Hubbell, Peyton Hampton, Derrin McCormick, Ben Schreiber, Luke Johnson and Conner Lewis.
“The kids, they played hard tonight,” Phillips said. “It’s a difficult loss. The kids gave it all they had, and that’s all you can ask for.
“Going 16-1-2, to play 19 matches, it’s going to be difficult for anyone to come in duplicate what they have done this year.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.