Jaxson Szabo scored two goals, but it was Len Sasaki’s penalty kick that ended up doing in Olentangy in a 4-3 loss to Thomas Worthington in the second round of the Division I boys soccer district tournament Saturday in Lewis Center.
Sasaki scored what turned out to be the game winner after Olentangy goalie Trent Trees was hit with a red card when he slid trying to defend the ball as Sasaki broke free from the defense.
Trees was carded as the last defender, which disqualified him from the contest and would have cost him a shot at rival Olentangy Orange in the district semifinal Wednesday had 10th-seeded Olentangy advanced.
“Our keeper collided with him, which was a foul – given,” Olentangy coach Pat Schick said. “I saw the foul, but I saw at least one (defender) shoulder-to-shoulder (with Sasaki), which means (Trees is) not the last defender.
“But, it’s a bang-bang play. If (the roles were) reversed, I would have been yelling my head off for a red card, so I don’t blame them for making the call … it just sucks that it happened to us.”
Sasaki beat replacement Will Yorke to push the Thomas lead to 4-2 in the 49th minute.
After the game, Schick individually hugged his five seniors — Cory Sweet, Matt Vogel, Rohan Charles, Nick Celona and Nick Conway — as the team was breaking up with the cheers of celebration for the other side making its way to the parking lot off in the distance.
“It’ll be hard to fill those shoes – they’re good kids,” Schick said. “That’s what makes the end of the game so hard. You look at the kids that have put in a lot of effort and a lot of energy and emotion and just, all of a sudden, it just gets ripped out of their hearts. It’s devastating to watch.”
While that goal was the difference, Schick thought the three goals scored by the Cardinals in the first half were bigger factors in the loss.
“I say we lost in the first half when we let in three goals in ways that we’ve never let in goals before,” Schick said.
Thomas (8-8-2), the 22nd seed, scored three times in just over 10 minutes of play late in the first half to gain control.
Szabo scored his first goal on a long throw-in by Ben Dawson to tie the score 1-1 with 16:17 left in the first half.
Drew Holman fed through the defense to Szabo, who beat Trees one-on-one to the right to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead with 10:34 left.
The goal came after Trees had made saves on shots by Dawson and Szabo on back-to-back possessions to keep it tied.
The back-breaker came when Kainan Ramsey fed through to John Kennedy, who scored with 5:43 remaining in the half.
Olentangy got off to a fast start when a throw-in bounced off a Thomas defender right to Charles, who one-timed it past the Thomas keeper for a 1-0 lead with 36:01 left in the first half.
Conway got Olentangy off to a quick start in the second half when he scored off a Nick Miller free kick to cut it to 3-2 with 33:18 remaining.
Olentangy got within striking distance when Conway scored on the backside of a long throw-in with 19:23 left.
Yorke stopped a Griffen Fischback penalty kick with 9:22 left to keep it at a one-goal deficit and finished with four saves in relief. Trees finished with six saves for Olentangy.
“Will came up with a huge save on the PK that kept us in it, and Trent had saves in the first half that kept us in it,” Schick said. “It’s just some days things don’t go your way.”
The loss snapped a string of nine straight district semifinal appearance for Olentangy (8-9) in a wide open Central District.
“The top three seeds of Coffman, Jerome and St. Charles – they’re sort of the upper echelon,” Schick said. “From four to 20 or 25 are all teams that are going to beat up on each other.
“That’s what made it hard selecting where we went … either way, we’re having a hard game. The parity in Central Ohio soccer is outrageous this year.”
Thomas plays at 13th-seeded Orange Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.