After failing to get much of anything going in the offensive end for most of the game, the St. Charles boys soccer team capitalized on a late flurry to escape with a 1-0 win over Olentangy in Wednesday’s Division I regional semifinal at Westerville Central.
After the Braves came up empty on a handful of late chances of their own — Cardinal keeper Aidan Rice stopped a shot by Lucas Brinkman and cleaned up a point-blank rebound off the foot of Parker Johnston before a pair of set pieces by Christos Zenios nearly connected — the Cardinals went to work.
St. Charles pushed the ball forward any chance it could and, with about 10 minutes left, managed to sustain a little pressure.
Olentangy keeper Liam McClen came up with a clutch save on a low liner by Aiden Zieg — the third Cardinal shot in less than a minute’s time after managing just one shot on target the entire first half.
After St. Charles was awarded a throw-in deep in enemy territory, though, Ryan Sullivan collected the ball and flicked in what proved to be the game-winner with 9:02 left.
“We always pride ourselves on our set-piece work, but our group’s resolve … I’ve not seen it in my entire career,” St. Charles coach Chris Vonau said. “Their ability to make plays happen when they shouldn’t is unmatched.”
The sequence kind of came out of nowhere … but it was set up by the defense.
“They defend really, really well and when they win they make you pay by sending the ball 50 yards down the field as fast as they possibly can,” Olentangy coach Kyle Hamrick said. “So, when you don’t take advantage of opportunities in your attacking third, you’re going to have to recover for 50 yards, deal with fast forwards that are coming to press you really hard and make things uncomfortable for your back line.”
Which is exactly how the Cardinals’ late push started.
“They had a four-minute period there in that second half where it was set piece, after set piece, after set piece,” Hamrick said. “They took advantage and got their goal and we had a few opportunities right in front of their net we didn’t capitalize on.”
“Hat’s off to them,” Vonau said of the Braves, who finished the season as the Central District’s top team and fourth in the final OSSCA State Soccer Poll. “They’re an excellent soccer team. Kyle does an amazing job — so does the rest of their coaching staff — they have a plethora of talent. We knew we’d have to weather some storms in certain pockets and they certainly brought it tonight.
“We found ways to get the ball up and out on their dangerous opportunities and our keeper and our defense stood on their heads tonight.”
With nothing decided after 80 minutes, it took Olentangy Liberty just one in the extra session as Lexie Mitchem converted a penalty kick with 14:04 left in ovetime to lead the Patriots to a 2-1 Division I regional semifinal win over Olentangy Berlin Tuesday night at DeSales.
After the team’s weathered a tough first half — one that saw cool temps, plenty of wind and even some snow — the Bears broke through midway through the second as Fina Davy found the back of the net with 16:08 left.
The edge was short-lived, though, as Liberty answered less than six minutes later as Maria Stack tapped in a feed from Chloe Brecht at the 10:54 mark of the second half.
Things stayed even until early in OT, when Stack was fouled in the box with 14:04 left. Mitchem took care of the rest, calmly converting the PK to help the Patriots punch their ticket to the final.
The win sets up a showdown against Upper Arlington — a team Liberty tied 2-2 in the regular season — in Saturday’s regional final. First kick is set for 1 p.m. at Big Walnut.