Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
KINNIKINNICK — When Ethan Nelson and Ivan Chavez are both at the top of their game, Zane Trace instantly becomes an extremely dangerous opponent.
That was the case on Thursday. Nelson and Chavez were both magnificent and Clay was the unlucky beneficiary of the duo’s performance.
Nelson and Chavez scored five of their team’s six goals in a 6-0 shutout win over the Panthers in a Division II sectional final — the Pioneers’ first sectional crown since 2014.
“It’s been a long time for us,” Nelson said. “All through my high school years, we’ve been kind of decent. But we’ve never been great. So this year, coming this far in my senior year, it’s been amazing. I just want to keep going forward and make my last season a special one.”
Nelson is well on his way to accomplishing that goal. He’s at the top of the scoring leaderboards in the area and he helped provide early fireworks in Thursday’s game.
Clay (3-10-2) simply didn’t have an answer for him, whether that be a man-mark or a group effort.
“What really motivates me is my team,” Nelson said. “Every chance they give me, I just want to finish strong and score. That way, we can get ahead and everybody can just relax. As a team, once we get that first goal, we start to come together and everybody has a fun time.”
Chavez got on the board first with a goal at the 29:31 mark in the first half, thanks to an assist from brother Marco Chavez. That 1-0 lead would stand until late in the first half when Nelson scored his first with just over four minutes remaining.
That 2-0 advantage stood at halftime while Nelson’s goal was ultimately the backbreaker.
“As soon as we started playing together, I knew we were going to have a special connection,” Nelson said of Chavez. “As we play, I always know where he’s at and we’re always talking. We just play off of each other. It’s great.”
In the second half, Zane Trace (12-4) opened the floodgates.
The Pioneers seized a 3-0 lead with 19:33 remaining when Jordan Harrington found the back of the net. Harrington found the ball at his feet after it ricocheted off a defender in the box following a corner.
Clay, visibly frustrated, then saw Nelson score his second goal with 13:14 left to make it 4-0 score.
“I thought it was a bit of a slow start,” Zane Trace head coach Tim Cook said. “We heard [Clay] was going to try to pack it in defensively, which is what we saw. It was about trying to get around that. So a little bit of a slow start but we went into halftime up 2-0, talked about a few things and came back and scored some goals.”
Nelson completed his hat trick to make it a 5-0 tally with 9:43 left and, less than two minutes later, Chavez found the back of the net again to produce the night’s final.
“I think this is huge. The biggest thing for the kids is that we’re extremely young,” Cook said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that sometimes. We start four freshmen and four sophomores. We have one junior and two seniors. So it’s a good sign for our future.”
In total, the Pioneers pelted Clay’s goal with 21 shot attempts — 14 on target — and took seven corners. Meanwhile, the Panthers’ offense managed just four shots — three on goal — and were awarded a single corner.
While Clay’s season comes to an end, Zane Trace advances to a Division III district semifinal against Wheelersburg — a team the Pioneers are familiar with after a 4-0 loss earlier this fall.
That game will be at Wheelersburg, scheduled for a 5 p.m. start on Tuesday.
“We’re excited about it,” Cook said. “We had our change of system after that game. We’re playing more of a high-pressing system and since we’ve implemented that, we’ve seen a lot of positives in our play. So we’re looking forward to seeing them again in a different style than what they saw from us the first time and see where that takes us.”