BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — LOGANSPORT — The longer the game went scoreless, the more Western and Kokomo were on edge. The tension escalated for nearly an hour in the opening game of the Class 2A Logansport Boys Soccer Sectional on Monday night before Chris Root breached the goal to tilt the game Western’s way.
Western (14-2-1) struck in the 59th minute after a throw in on the right side. Nic Bewley controlled the throw and slipped a pass to Root just inside the box. Root cut the ball past sliding Kokomo defender S.A. Dunn, looked up, and was in the clear to score from 15 yards out.
“We just had a good play that came from a throw-in,” Root said. “I had one touch and it was in the back of the net.
“All I know is I had the ball and I had my job and I had to finish. Just a simple cut over [past the defender] and I had it.”
That goal decided a great game between the local rivals which saw a series of great saves from Western senior netminder Edgar Sanchez and Kokomo freshman goalie Caleb Cook in the first half.
Kokomo (6-11) put five defenders across the back line and played with a lone striker — or occasionally with none — to keep Western at bay.
“I noticed early on they were playing five back and they switched to a 5-4-1 [formation],” Western coach Mike Roe said. “Really, we expected them to come in with a little bit of a bunker [defense] and try to eliminate a lot of our goal-scoring opportunities, maybe even frustrate us a little bit.
“I really think that had a big effect. Kokomo’s defense was standout, they were stellar. They made us work for every attempt on goal. We didn’t get very many free looks.”
That’s why when the Panthers finally scored, their emotions uncorked. Knots of Panther players celebrated all over.
“I could not have asked for more,” Kokomo coach Kismet Morrison said. “We planned the game well, they stuck to the game plan, and they were phenomenal. Gosh, just one lapse, just one lapse.
“Before we came over, we were in the classroom, we spoke about what we wanted to do [for a game plan] and I’m so delighted we were actually able to do what we said we were going to do. Unfortunately, they got the goal. That was the difference between the two teams but it was a pleasing way to end the season.”
Central defenders Dunn and Robert Lambert in particular had standout games for the Kats. Kokomo played a high defensive line and dared Western to beat them on through balls but over and over Kokomo’s defense snuffed out breakaway chances.
Kokomo’s pushed in the final few minutes for an equalizer and had a good chance on a corner with 30 seconds left, but one Kat headed wide on the far post as a teammate charged in from behind with what would have been a clearer chance.
Western’s Sanchez had to make six saves in the first half — including two tough ones on efforts from Kokomo’s Keagan James — but had just one tame save to handle in the second half as the Panthers imposed their will. Root credited improved communication for Western getting better possession in the second half.
Kokomo’s Cook made four saves in each half.
“Second half ... I don’t think we passed the ball any better, I thought we made better decisions on through balls and over the top,” Roe said.
“I felt like [Kokomo] struggled in the second half due to our ability to win that middle third. You gotta have defense and you’ve gotta have offense but bottom line is games are won and lost in the middle third. I felt like that’s definitely where we stood out in the second half.”