By Josh Brown
XENIA — Four straight one-goal victories.
Four different heroes.
In Wednesday’s win, though, it took a heroic effort from the entire Tippecanoe boys soccer team to advance.
Freshman Ben Sauls headed in the game’s only score in the first half off of an Austin Haas assist, goalkeeper Jacob Franke made a stellar second-half save to protect that lead and the Red Devil defense made sure that that one ball was the only truly dangerous one that Franke faced all night as Tippecanoe (19-1-1) shut out Columbus Beechcroft 1-0 in a Division II regional semifinal matchup Wednesday in Xenia.
Sauls was the third different Red Devil to score in three straight 1-0 victories. In the sectional final against Carroll, the hero was Andrew DeBrosse. In an overtime district final win over Wyoming, it was Caiden Smith. Even in the Devils’ 3-2 sectional semifinal win over Bellbrook, three different players scored: Adam Grieshop, Nathan Hamberg and Mitch Colvin, who had the game-winner.
“That’s a good thing. If you just have one main goal scorer, a team can mark that guy out of a game,” Tippecanoe coach Scott Downing said. “But if you’ve got goals coming from a lot of different guys, it makes you dangerous. Good for us. Bad for them.”
Though the Devils controlled the entire first half and had numerous shots — including a series of headers on corner kick attempts — none of them found their way on frame. The Devils’ best chance came on a 50-yard free kick by Haas with 11:25 to go in the half, a ball he hit into the box that hit off of a Beechcroft defender’s head and narrowly missed the goal.
Less than a minute later, though, Haas got a second chance from nearly the exact same spot.
“When I saw Ben wide open, I was like, oh man, he has to hit that one in,” Haas said. “He was by himself, no one marking, he had a good run back side — and he got the goal.”
Haas served the ball into the box from 40 yards out, and Sauls came sailing in and drove the ball home with a header to give Tippecanoe a 1-0 lead with 10:35 left in the first half.
“I was just thinking don’t shank the header,” Sauls said. “I feel like I had it in my mind just to get it on goal and something good would happen.
“It feels amazing. It’s hard to describe. I didn’t expect to come in here and score the goal to win the game, but it happened and I’m thankful for it.”
“The ball popped out here to Austin Haas, and he just served a ball in. And freshman Ben Sauls … that’s why we brought him up to varsity. For games like this,” Downing said. “He’s very composed and good in the air, and he simply tucked it away. You saw we had other chances that went wide or went over, but he’s been deadly in the air. Getting that one chance, he was composed enough to finish it.”
And while the Devils continued to put pressure on and kept Beechcroft from creating dangerous situations of its own, they simply couldn’t get an insurance goal.
“When he (Sauls) hit it in, I was like, finally,” Haas said. “Now we can start rolling … but it didn’t really go that way.”
“Pretty much the whole game, we had good control of it,” Downing said. “We did a good job moving the ball around at times, and in the end we did a good job of maintaining possession. They came down just knocking balls in and hoping to get something off of it. That’s one thing we focused on tonight, was maintaining possession and not getting into a long ball game with them. We’ve seen them play before, and one thing about them is that they’re dangerous. Just one mistake, and they can capitalize on it.”
And when Beechcroft got its one chance, Tippecanoe’s Franke was ready.
With roughly 6:40 left in the game, Mathias Rieppuert took a pass in front of the Tippecanoe goal 25 yards out, and he suddenly turned and ripped a shot that was headed right under the crossbar. But Franke — who had had little to do to that point — was still focused on the action, leaping up and deflecting the ball over to preserve the one-goal lead.
“I knew it was going to happen sometime in the game,” Franke said. “I knew I was going to touch the ball. It’s a regional semifinal. There was always going to be something I would have to do.”
The defense had little trouble clearing the resulting corner kick, and Beechcroft didn’t seriously threaten the rest of the way.
“It was a great save,” Downing said. “That’s what you need your keeper for. They make that one good save, and you’re moving on to the next round.”
And what a matchup for the next round — Tippecanoe will get the chance to avenge its only regular-season loss in a rematch against the Alter Knights in the regional championship game, which will be at noon Saturday at West Carrollton High School.
“Each game, it’s prepared us for this,” Franke said. “I think that Carroll game really boosted us, and we’ve just been playing really well since then. Every game we come out, we’ve got a new objective, and, to be honest with you, each game we’re just getting better as a team.”
Troy Christian 0
MASON — The program’s first ever sectional title. Its first ever district championship.
The Troy Christian boys soccer team enjoyed unprecedented success this season. And that’s something that not even an 8-0 Division III regional semifinal loss to Summit Country Day — the state’s top-ranked team — Wednesday at Mason High School could detract from.
“We went down in a hard-fought battle to end the best season in Troy Christian history at 16-2-2,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Zeman said. “(We want to thank our fans) so much for the great atmosphere and support.”
JC 3, Lehman 0
TROY — The Lehman volleyball team was facing a monumental task Wednesday in a Troy Division IV regional semifinal against the defending state champion and unbeaten Jackson Center Tigers.
And while the Cavaliers came up short 25-15, 25-14, 25-12, it didn’t change what Lehman had accomplished this season.
“Our season is not going to be measure by our match tonight,” Greg Snipes said after the Cavaliers closed the campaign at 16-11. “We started off the season 2-7. To turn it around and win some big matches late in the year and win a sectional and district title and make it to the regional in one of the toughest regionals in the state, we really did (overcome a lot).”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.