BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — ARCADIA — Boasting a large class of 11 seniors and a wealth of experience on the field, Eastern’s girls soccer squad pointed to this season as a year for a breakthrough.
That breakthrough never came Thursday night and the Comets (13-3) had to settle for the knowledge that they’d made progress. Eastern was never able to breach Sheridan’s defenses and force goalie Amanda Summe into an uncomfortable moment. Sheridan won 1-0 to set up a date with two-time defending sectional champ and host Hamilton Heights in Saturday’s final.
“I did tell them how proud I was,” Eastern coach Chris Rees said of his squad’s postgame talk. “I said, ‘You know what? I want to win them all, but sometimes that doesn’t happen happen and if we play well, I’m happy.’ That was a tough team. That was a team that beat us 4-0 in the season. Their only goal [Thursday] came off a mistake early on in the midfield and they got a good run on us and made a good shot and a good goal.
“They did not beat us, I don’t feel like. I think our girls played, they were aggressive. They were a team that beat us 4-0 and I think we showed that we’re a better team than that.”
Sheridan (12-4-1) went up in the 16th minute when forward Katie Hybarger put the only dent in the scoreboard. She got free on the near right wing and had space to line up a shot from a tight angle. She looped a shot over Eastern goalie Brooke Stout and her effort nestled high into the far side netting for the winner.
After that, Sheridan kept attacking, forcing a total of a dozen saves from Stout, but also found itself under constant pressure from Eastern’s pesky defenders who intercepted passes or got on offensive players the instant she received a pass.
“We just tried to keep playing our game” Shereidan coach Derry Zachery said. “We beat them pretty handily in the season, but I knew that was a fluke. I knew they were going to be an evenly matched team, so I just kept on our girls to weather the storm. They’ve got a load of seniors and I knew they were going to fight and fight and fight and our girls were going to have to match that. I think our girls did a pretty good job of matching their intensity and getting some shots and getting one in the back of the net.”
Eastern’s best chances in the first half were on free kicks by Savannah Rees, but her two best efforts were just off target. The best chance for Eastern in the second half was in the final minute of the game when a good pass found midfielder Emily Harvath in stride, with a defender on the wrong side, and with a clean look at goal but Harvath’s pressured shot from 20 yards out went off target.
Summe had two saves in the Sheridan net. While the Comets couldn’t counter with an equalizer, they made Sheridan work all game long to keep an advantage.
“I think we were more aggressive on the field [than earlier in the season], better to the ball,” Chris Rees said. “Our big problem early on in the year has been passing and I think we did a little bit better with that, but I’d still like to see it better than it was. Seniors knew it was their last game and they stepped up. I’m very, very proud of everybody on the team. They all contributed. I’m just sad it had to come to an end.”
Rees expects to step down as coach now that the season is over. His daughter Savannah is graduating as part of the large senior group.
“Most of them I’ve coached since they were 4 or 5 years old and I was happy to be able to finish their career,” he said.