The jumbled mess at the top of the OCC-Cardinal Division boys soccer standings untangled itself a bit Tuesday night.
And, thanks to a solid effort and a little help elsewhere, Hayes finds itself in first with a 1-0 win over visiting Worthington Kilbourne at Cornell Stadium in Delaware.
A Sept. 13 loss to Thomas Worthington had the Pacers scoreboard watching. Hilliard Bradley fell 2-0 at Dublin Jerome Tuesday night to open the door for Delaware to get to a league title.
“The credit goes to the boys because they’ve stayed loyal to each other,” Pacers coach Joshua Diehl said. “I think (the game against Thomas) made them hungrier.”
Curtis Herzog and Brody Kannally worked the ball back and forth before Herzog shot left and beat the goalie for the game’s lone goal with 16:02 left in the first half.
“I saw Brody coming with me and I know if I’m going with Brody, we can combine together,” Herzog said. “I just trusted him to give it to me and then slotted it home.”
The Pacers were able to hold the lead with the help of goalie Noah Meehan, who stopped four shots and a few more attempts by the Wolves offense that missed the mark.
“We’re very good at pressuring the soccer ball,” Diehl said. “Noah is playing great … this is his first year on varsity as a junior, his confidence is growing and he’s a really good goalkeeper — plus, the boys just trust him. When he needs to come up and make a play, he’s making plays for us.”
Delaware (7-3-1, 3-1-1) had won four straight before losing back-to-back games against Grove City and Thomas. Since, the Pacers have gone 3-0-1.
“I think we’re definitely growing and maturing really fast,” Diehl said. “We just have to be intentional as coaches and captains that we’re doing it the right way … and the boys have been very responsive.”
When the team met at midfield after the game, Diehl gave his assistants and captains the opportunity to give their thoughts on the win.
One assistant, Robb Morgan, told the team that it was the smartest that he’s seen them play in the year and a half that he’s been with the program.
“I feel like the boys understand what their strengths are and they understand what their weaknesses are,” Diehl said. “Just their soccer IQ – to read the game, to read the situation and honestly manage the game in the second half — because we knew (Kilbourne) was throwing everything forward. I just thought the boys did a good job being conservative and not making any critical mistakes that were going to kill us.”
Delaware had dropped three straight meetings with the Wolves, who outscored the Pacers 5-0 in those matchups. Goalie Jason Bowen led Kilbourne (5-7-2, 2-2-1) with seven saves.
The Pacers are alone in first for now, with a matchup at home against Jerome Oct. 6. Bradley is still in the mix with one loss and one tie, which came Sept. 20 against Hayes.
“We just take it one game at a time,” Herzog said. “We don’t think about too much. We just do what we have to do (that night) and that’ll set us up for the next game.”
Next up, Hayes has a non-league game against Reynoldsburg Thursday night at 7 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.