John Bruce, Contributor
KINNIKINNICK — 362 days ago, Emily Hanes scored a game-winning goal in Unioto’s girls district championship win. On Thursday, her brother Lucas joined the family winner’s circle with overtime heroics of his own.
With 6:16 left to play in the first overtime, Hanes intercepted a pass and literally dribbled into the goal to send the Shermans to their second consecutive Division II district championship with a 2-1 win over Marietta.
Unioto (14-3-2) had previously lost to Marietta in the regular season and through the opening few minutes, it seemed like the Shermans were destined to fall again.
Marietta (16-1-2) stormed out of the gates and caught Unioto on its heels with pressure.
That pressure led to a goal at the 33:50 mark of the first half when Mac Threatt sent a ball to the left side of the box where junior midfielder Dillon Meagle cashed in from eight yards out with a hard left-footed shot.
Following the goal, a steady rain began, which appeared to baffle the young Shermans. The Tigers maintained possession throughout with crisp passing and spacing, while the Tanks were routinely late to challenges, which led to a bevy of fouls. Senior David Sarver nearly scored five minutes after Meagle’s breakthrough, but Unioto’s Micah Geise was able to parry the ball over the bar at the last possible moment.
The Shermans’ defense of Ashton Sigler, Cameron Thompson, Ricardo Arredondo and Joe Lafreniere started to find their groove after Geise’s save, keeping the Tigers to only deep shots the rest of the half, which Geise handled with ease.
Antonio Cruz, who had his breakthrough performance in last year’s district final, began to control the action in the midfield by repeatedly winning 50-50 balls and finding open teammates.
With the backend of the Shermans’ squad finding their footing, the team’s attacking third started to come together as well. JC Stark and River Pettigrew took a cue from Cruz and started to dissect the Tigers’ defense. Asher McBee, Hanes and Kamden Smith began making aggressive runs in the open gaps afforded by their excellent spacing.
Going into the half, the Tanks only had one shot on target, but it felt as if they were gaining momentum and confidence on the offensive end.
But that was nearly all taken away within the first two minutes of the second half.
The Tigers had their best chance of the match following one of their 10 corner kicks. The corner was sent into the box where Geise punched the ball into the air, but also pulled him off of his line. With an open net, the Tigers sent a shot in, but Arredondo was in perfect position to head the ball away to save the game for the Shermans.
Marietta wouldn’t have another close chance throughout the remainder of the match.
When a team is defending Unioto, they likely focus on its dynamic trio of sophomores — Hanes (32 goals), Pettigrew (14), and Smith (12). That way of defending can slow the Tanks down, but they are very difficult to stop because of the different ways that they can score. Stark nearly converted on a corner kick on a designed play, but it would be an unlikely source that got the Shermans back to even.
A foul along the Marietta sideline and 30 yards out from the goal gave the Shermans a golden opportunity.
As Pettigrew stepped to take the free kick, a small window towards the near post was available and Pettigrew sent a scorcher to it. Marietta’s Caden Gebczyk was able to knock it down, but wasn’t able to handle the shot. That’s where Joe Lafreniere took full advantage of his chance.
Lafreniere, a defender, played the bounce of the ball and coolly headed it into the netting to tie the match at 1-1 with 18:21 to play. It was Lafreniere’s third goal of the last two seasons, but easily his biggest.
“If you look at our stats, it is sophomore driven in goals and assists,” Unioto coach Brandon Hanes said of his offense. “If we can continue to get extra contributions from seniors to take some pressure off those guys, it’s huge. We can’t win without it.”
As the Tanks tied the game, coach Hanes made a change to solidify his defense while also providing an extra spark to the offense. McBee moved back onto the backline, where he’s spent the majority of his outstanding career, while also bringing in senior Cameron Kendrick to put extra pressure on the Marietta defense.
Neither team was able to make much of a push towards the late game-winning goal, which would ultimately lead to overtime.
Little to Marietta’s chagrin, in overtime, it was Pettigrew’s time to shine.
Pettigrew, who was one of six Shermans to play all 89 minutes, seemed to pick up an extra gear in the extra period. His perseverance was a major reason for the botched pass that Hanes took in for the winning goal.
“He [Pettigrew] never gets tired. He’s like the energizer bunny,” Hanes said of his sophomore midfielder. “With his energy and speed in overtime, he just never wore out tonight.”
The Tigers played a ball back to their keeper, who hurried his pass to his outlet man because of Pettigrew’s aggressive push forward. As the ball trickled away, Pettigrew was unable to fully stop and bumped into the keeper about 25 yards away from the goal. The outlet man for Marietta patiently awaited the pass, but that’s where Hanes swooped in for the steal.
Hanes was able to dribble past the diving keeper and carry it into the back of the net to send the Shermans’ faithful home happy.
“Imagine you have your son, you’re in the district championship game, dribble around the goalie to put the ball in the back of the net … That’s just tears of joy,” Hanes said of his son’s game-winning moment.
Another player that Hanes spoke highly of was junior goalkeeper Micah Geise.
“He’s started every game since he was a freshman. He’s given up one goal in three years in the SVC. But tonight he was more aggressive and in charge. He was punching balls away, he was screaming and talking, and he’s not done that in years’ past.”
The Shermans will next play in a Division II regional semifinal on Wednesday against the winner of Warsaw River View and St. Clairsville — a match that will take place on Saturday.
33:50 – M – Dillon Meagle (19th), assist Mac Threatt (5th)
18:21 – U – Joe Lafreniere (2nd), assist River Pettigrew (11th)
6:16 – U – Lucas Hanes (32nd), unassisted
Shots: Unioto 13, Marietta 21
Shots on Goal: Unioto 6, Marietta 11
Saves: Unioto 10 (Geise 9, Arredondo 1), Marietta 4 (Gebczyk)
Fouls: Unioto 24, Marietta 18
Corners Won: Unioto 2, Marietta 10
Offsides: Unioto 0, Marietta 2