John Bruce, Contributor
CHILLICOTHE — It took Unioto nearly 37 minutes to break a scoreless tie with visiting Waverly on Wednesday. But when the Shermans did, they exploded and blew the game open in a hurry.
Sophomores Kamden Smith, Lucas Hanes, and River Pettigrew each scored in the final three minutes of the first half, which eventually led to a 6-0 win over Waverly in a Division II sectional final.
The match started off very even over the first 15 minutes, with neither team gaining much traction. Waverly (5-10-2) started out with a lot of energy and aggression, routinely winning 50-50 balls and gaining possession throughout.
The Tigers, behind 11 seniors, got the first shot of the game via Waylon Lamerson, but Unioto keeper Micah Geise was there to make the first of his five saves on the night.
Unioto (12-3-2) began the match sluggish, but its defense of Ashton Sigler, Asher McBee, Joe Lafreniere, Cameron Thompson, and Ricardo Arredondo did an outstanding job of thwarting the Tigers’ attack early and often.
“We stepped towards them on the ball, which didn’t allow them to turn or have that wing play they have,” Lafreniere said. “They have a couple of kids that are very fast on the attack. We shut them down and didn’t let them turn at all.”
The Shermans began to gain traction, but Waverly’s Hunter Hauck parried away six shots in the first 35 minutes, keeping the game scoreless.
But thanks to the connection of Pettigrew and Smith, the Tanks finally lit up the scoreboard.
Pettigrew crossed the ball from the right side of the box to the waiting Smith on the left side. Smith settled the ball and crushed a right-footed shot into the opposite side netting to beat Hauck and give the Shermans a 1-0 lead late in the first half.
At that point, it felt like a giant weight had been lifted off the Shermans’ collective shoulders.
Smith sent a cross in from the left of the box, where Hanes collected it in the middle and drilled the back of the net with exactly two minutes left before halftime.
The Tanks weren’t finished, though.
Hanes took a pass from McBee around midfield, who sent it to Pettigrew as time ran down. Pettigrew, hearing his sideline telling him to shoot it, put a picture perfect shot just under the crossbar with two seconds remaining in the half to dash Waverly’s hopes of a comeback and give the Shermans a commanding 3-0 lead.
“Everyone was just screaming to shoot,” Pettigrew said of his goal. “I saw there was like ten seconds left so I just shot it. It was perfect.”
During halftime, Unioto coach Brandon Hanes made a big adjustment, opting to move Pettigrew to the outside to help widen the attack for the Shermans.
That move paid major dividends throughout the first 20 minutes of the second half, with Hanes and Pettigrew each scoring and assisting each other on a goal to put the Shermans up 5-0. Hanes completed the scoring, and his hat trick, with 23:32 left in the game on a spectacular goal. McBee fed the sophomore down the left wing before Hanes beat his man towards the end line, where it appeared as if he was going to center the ball. However, Hanes put a plethora of english on his shot and somehow squeezed the ball in to push the score to 6-0.
“We didn’t start off slow in the second half,” Pettigrew said. “In the first half, we were sluggish. We came out and just thought we were going to win. [Waverly] came to play.”
Micah Geise was credited with five saves and earned his eighth shutout of the season. Unioto’s defense has only allowed 15 goals on the season, while their offense has netted 80 scores, giving the Shermans a dynamic balance.
The win gives the Shermans their second consecutive sectional championship and brings them into a matchup with a familiar foe in Alexander, a Division II district semifinal at 5 p.m., Oct. 26. The Spartans have eliminated the Tanks in two of the last three seasons — and defeated the Shermans 2-1 last Thursday evening.
“We just need to possess the ball,” Lafreniere said. “[Alexander] is really big. They’re probably bigger than us, faster than us and more athletic. But we’re better on the ball, we have more skill. So we’re going to have to possess the ball and we need to keep the ball off their feet.”