XENIA – It took all of 48 seconds for the Olentangy Liberty boys soccer team to strike.
It took the next 79 minutes and 12 seconds for the Patriot defense to hold on to a 1-0 victory over Liberty Township Lakota East in a Division I state semifinal Wednesday night at Xenia’s Doug Adam Stadium.
Jaggar Brooker broke free on the right side before centering to Ludwig Conrad, who rolled it in on the left to give the Patriots a 1-0 lead with 39:12 remaining in the first half.
“We came out fast and that’s what made the difference,” Conrad said. “When that ball went through to Jaggar – I knew I had to get as high up as I could because any ball in the box could bounce around and set up. I got lucky, and it came right to me. I couldn’t really see it – I just knew where it was. I just had to put it on target and it went in.”
“These games – especially when you get this far into the tournament – it’s all about momentum,” Liberty coach Marc D’Auteuil said. “We had that momentum. Ludwig hit the post (nine minutes later) or it would have been 2-0, and I think that would have been a different game.”
The goal was all the Patriots needed to get back to the state championship for the first time since 2014 and are seeking their first title since 2012.
Theren Handlon had five saves in goal, including four in the second half. He made three saves in a three-minute stretch midway through the second half as the Thunderhawks (17-3-3) put on the pressure.
“We all had to work as hard as we could and I knew we could,” Handlon said. “I’m proud of everyone – especially the defense.”
Nate Logozzo came up with the defensive save of the game, sliding to deflect a shot out of bounds off the foot of Eyad Qaqish, who had an open lane on the right for Lakota East.
“There’s gonna be times in games like this where teams are on you,” D’Auteuil said. “You’ve gotta fight, you’ve gotta weather it. I think Theren is one of the best goalkeepers in Ohio. We’ve got two of the best center backs in Ohio. Our outside backs are strong.
“It’s overall as a group. Our midfield is defending and up top is defending. We’re able to flip from defense to offense so quick. We’re really balanced,” he added.
Nic Lemen stopped four shots in goal for the Thunderhawks.
“We’ve played St. Ignatius and St. Charles and state ranked teams, and (Lakota East) is as good of a team as we’ve seen all year,” D’Auteuil said. “To find a way to get a result and keep playing is impressive.”
The Patriots are in the state final for the fourth time with all three of their losses coming against Sunday’s opponent Cleveland St. Ignatius.
The Wildcats also own a 1-0 victory over the Patriots in their regular-season finale Oct. 12 in Cleveland.
“We saw them the last game of the regular season – they’re good,” D’Auteuil said. “They’ve been there before. You’re going to play somebody good when you go to Crew Stadium.”
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at [email protected]