By Pedro Velazco
— Early on Wednesday night, Western’s boys soccer team figured out it could play with Logansport and threaten to win not just the game, but the sectional.
Late Wednesday night, Logansport figured out how to win.
The Berries scored the winning goal just 4:07 from the end of regulation to take a 2-1 victory in the opening round of the Class 2A Kokomo Sectional.
The Panthers struck first, in the game’s 16th minute, and held a 1-0 advantage at halftime. Western’s goal came from Chris Root, who poked home a loose ball from six yards out after Logan goalie Connor Kinnaman gave up a rebound on a 40-yard-plus free kick by Zac Simpson.
In the second half, the Berries (7-10) got a grip on the action. Logan scored just 45 seconds after halftime when Jose Tavares sent a low cross to an open Pedro Hernandez for a one-time strike at the back post.
“The big thing in the first half was the nerves, knowing we could give up a goal, which we did, and then we weren’t possessing the ball and guys were stabbing [at the ball]. They were afraid they were going to give up another one,” Logan coach Mike Turner said.
Western had more of the ball and the bulk of the dangerous chances in the first half. The Panthers forced Klinnaman into nine saves in the first half, compared to just three for Western goalie Edgar Sanchez, but Logan got more of the ball in the second half.
“We allowed them to get a lot more first touches on the ball,” Western coach Mike Roe said of the second half. “We were a little deeper than we should have been, and allowed them to build up some touches and [get] turns without getting any pressure on them right away.”
Western still had chances in the second half, but not nearly as many. Kinnaman made two saves in the second half. Sanchez only had one as the action evened out in the final 40 minutes.
“It was a mental adjustment, get back to possessing the ball, no more mistakes from the goalkeeper, finish — we finished in the first 45 seconds — and start possessing,” Turner said. “Possession is the difference. Once we started possessing the ball it started creating opportunities for us, and it took opportunities away from them, plus it gives us more confidence. We had to give up a goal to get rid of the nerves and then make the mental adjustment to play the way we can play.”
The Berries hit the woodwork twice on long-range efforts in the second half before scoring. A short drop pass set up Jose Tavares deep in the box but his shot crashed against the crossbar and out in the 68th minute. Then a long, speculative ball by Heath Vincent found the right upright just two minutes before the Berries scored their winner.
Western’s last good chance came with just more than a minute to play when Zach Shahan was put free on the far right side. He angled in and put a cross across the face of goal but no teammate was close enough to steer it on frame. Western ended its season 11-4-1.
“This has been a tremendous season for these boys,” Roe said. “They have fought and fought and fought tooth and nail. I’m proud of how well our team has played all season long, including [Wednesday]. The score didn’t reflect our success, but this is probably one of the most successful teams I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”
Roe said that before the season started, he thought the team would be lucky to get to .500. It turned out completely differently than expected.
“They fought hard every day,” Roe said. “They hear me say it a lot, but we’ve got to be better today than we were yesterday and I felt like they believed in that. They really tried to come in every day and improve something. That was truly an inspiration to me. That’s supposed to be my job is to be the inspiration.”
Marion 6, Kokomo 1
Kokomo’s North Central Conference rival Marion ended the Wildkats’ season, scoring five unanswered after Kokomo leveled the score at 1-all in the 14th minute. Kokomo got on the board when Jay Cupp steered home a Josh Stewart free kick.
Marion answered almost instantly on a disputed goal after a Marion player collided with Kokomo’s goalie. The Giants went on to take a 3-1 lead at halftime, then scored three more in the game’s closing minutes.
“We played decent, just some unlucky calls but that’s the way it goes,” Kokomo coach Kismet Morrison said. “We were always the underdog.
“Yes, [Kokomo’s equalizer] changed the game, unfortunately, the very next incident, things didn’t quite go accordingly. The incident in the goal mouth, that was a bad call from the referee and I think that kind of took the sting out of a good game.
“Overall, they gave 100 percent. I could not ask for any more, subs, each and every player.”