BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — TIPTON — Northwestern’s boys soccer team withstood the top-ranked team in Class A for the entire first half, then kept Guerin Catholic at bay for the a long stretch of the second half.
But Northwestern couldn’t keep the Golden Eagles off the scoreboard all night. Guerin pounced on a crack in the defense in the 59th minute, then never let Northwestern get back into the action.
Guerin went on to score a 2-0 victory in the championship game of the Class A Tipton Regional on Saturday night to take a spot in the semistate.
The Eagles (15-2-3) showed calmness on the ball at all positions and fast, efficient play in eliminating No. 11 Northwestern (16-4-1). It was a very different game than when Guerin took a 4-3 victory over Northwestern early in the regular season.
“We thought we were pretty fast, but from the first time we played them, they’ve obviously improved, as well as we have,” Northwestern coach Jim Wagner said. “I thought our speed would bother them some — I think it did, we did play them 0-0 [in the first half]. What ended up happening in the second half, since we were playing so defensively, we did have a couple of breaks [on defense].”
The Eagles scored in the 59th minute. The Tigers intercepted a cross in the 18-yard box but a clearance went to the center and midfielder Luke Bestard smashed home from the top of the box. Then in the 74th minute, Guerin’s Jacob Cloran took a hard shot from the edge of the box that NW goalie Evan LaDow saved but the rebound fell to forward George Poppas, who finished from close range.
“I think we just wore them down in the first half a little bit,” Guerin coach John Cech said. “Their two big players, [Robert] Olsen and [Blaine] Brutus, they’re just great players and I think we ran them a little bit and got them chasing us and a little bit and they just ran out of gas.
“We had some good chances in the first half, but we had great chances in the second half. That second goal really was the clincher.”
Guerin had more of the ball in the first half but Northwestern had the best look at goal as a good diagonal pass put Brutus in on the left side of the box for an open shot in the 25th minute. His shot from 16 yards went wide of the near post.
Guerin allowed Northwestern a couple looks in the second half as a Brutus header was handled without trouble by Guerin goalie Tarcisio Trujillo and Olsen got off a snap shot in traffic that looped wide.
Shortly thereafter, Guerin broke through and Northwestern never got another shot on target as the Guerin dominated possesson and pushed the Tiger midfield deep into its defensive area.
“I thought we were so fundamentally sound in that second half, and we just didn’t turn over the ball and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Cech said.
LaDow had seven saves for Northwestern.
“The guys really played their hearts out,” Wagner said of his team. “It’s a phenomenal group.
“They met my expectations. They played hard. We tried to do what we planned to do and it just wasn’t enough.”
Wagner thanked members of the Tiger football squad for coming out to support the soccer team in the regional final, as the gridders had done in the sectional. It helped make for a big crowd that overflowed the Tipton bleachers.
“I just thought that Northwestern played their hearts out and you hate to see a team have to lose in this kind of game because they played so well,” Cech said.