John Bruce, Contributor
CHILLICOTHE — As time ran down in a tie ballgame, the Unioto Shermans went with a familiar combination to advance into Saturday’s district championship game.
With 4:32 remaining in regulation, senior Ethan Kerns made a brilliant pass from deep in the corner to freshman Lucas Hanes at the Warren six-yard box and the freshman calmly slotted it over the goalkeeper, into the back of the net, to seal a 3-2 victory for the Shermans.
“It was pretty impressive. Those two work so well together and always know where each other is at before they are even there,” Unioto coach Brandon Hanes said of the combination.
Entering Wednesday’s contest, Unioto (14-4) had never defeated Warren (7-8-2) in boys soccer, losing the two’s previous six encounters.
However, the Shermans came out like a house afire scoring twice in the opening 20 minutes to roll out to a big advantage of the road-weary Warriors.
Just over two minutes into the game, Kerns dribbled his way through the Warriors’ defense and connected with freshman River Pettigrew, who flew past the back line and cooly beat the keeper for an early 1-0 advantage. That connection would culminate in another score less than 16 minutes later when Kerns threaded a pass through the defense that Pettigrew ran onto and hammered into the back of the net for a dream start for the Tanks.
“Those three guys [Pettigrew, Kerns and Hanes] all have nearly 20 goals, which you almost never see on a single team,” Hanes said of his triumvirate of scorers. “And when you have three people like that, it makes us offensively dangerous.”
With all of the momentum, the Shermans looked like they would easily reach the district title game. But with 6:24 to go in the opening half, Uncle Mo took a big turn towards the Warriors on an unfortunate bounce in the Tanks’ back line.
The Warriors brought the ball down the left side of the pitch and played a cross towards the penalty spot in the Unioto box, which deflected off a Sherman defender and past goalie Micah Geise to bring the score to 2-1. The Warriors were looking for any break to go their way, so they definitely would take the own goal to give them momentum going into the half.
Following the break, it appeared that two totally different teams were playing than the two that played in the first.
Warren worked the ball around with several quick passes while the Tanks looked out of sorts. Within five minutes, Warren was able to earn a corner kick, which was parlayed into a penalty kick after a foul was called.
Junior Ben Goodman, who beat Marietta with a penalty kick in overtime, stepped up to the spot and calmly beat Geise with a gorgeous shot to Geise’s left. The goal made Goodman 5-for-5 on the season from the penalty spot and knotted up the score at 2-2 with a little under 36 minutes to play in regulation.
With no chance to regroup outside of on the field, Hanes had to rely on his team to make the key adjustments on the field to quell the Warrior rally.
“That’s what is awesome about soccer. Once you get into a game, you can’t really coach,” Hanes said on the lack of timeouts and stoppages. “It’s a player-driven game and led by their decisions. I think our schedule has made it to where our guys were able to figure out how to get themselves out of that slump.”
One adjustment that Hanes was able to make was moving his Swiss Army Knife of Asher McBee from outside midfield to left back on defense. The versatile junior went back to his position of a year ago to help calm the Shermans’ defense and deflect multiple attacks from the Warriors.
“Asher’s one of the kids that we can move around to fill any spot,” Hanes said of McBee. “Or if they have a player that we need to shut down, Asher’s usually that guy.”
With McBee out of his usual outside mid position, junior Joe Lafreniere was able to make the most of his bump in minutes and aid in the Shermans’ attack late in the contest.
Lafreniere played a pass to Kerns, who was fouled in the box which resulted in a penalty kick. But, for the first time all season, Kerns was unable to convert from the spot and it left the game tied as time dwindled down.
The Shermans started to push more and more on the attack, while Warren appeared to be letting time run off the clock so they could regroup for an overtime period. That’s when Kerns made some magic out of nothing in that corner and found Hanes for the game-winning score.
Over the final 4:30, the game was played at a frenzied pace with even more intensity as the Warriors’ season wound down. The Shermans’ defense, led by McBee, Antonio Cruz, Cameron Thompson, Ashton Sigler, and the always solid Jayce Wingo, was able to stymie all attacks and send the Shermans onto the district finals.
Unioto will next face off with Gallia Academy (15-1-2) at 3:30 p.m., Saturday at Zane Trace High School. The Blue Devils will be looking for their first-ever soccer district championship, while the Shermans will be looking to return to the regionals for the first time since 2004, when they eventually reached the Final Four.
If you didn’t know the connection between Coach Hanes and Lucas Hanes, it would be father and son, which made the massive goal by Lucas even more special.
“As a dad, your heart drops, you tear up, it’s all of those things to see your son do that.”
NOTES: Kerns now has 36 goals and 22 assists on the season … the 22 assists is second only to Clifton Brown’s 23 during the 2004 season … Hanes’ 23 goals is a Unioto record for a freshman, Pettigrew’s 19 would also have beaten the previous record … Unioto has won two previous district championships (2002, 2004) … Unioto is 2-3 in district championship games and has never defeated a team from the Southeast District to win a district … Geise corralled five saves in the contest for the Shermans
37:48 – U – River Pettigrew (18), assist Ethan Kerns (20)
21:40 – U – Pettigrew (19), assist Kerns (21)
6:24 – W – Unioto Own Goal
35:52 – W – Ben Goodman
4:32 – U – Lucas Hanes (23), assist Kerns (22)