PIQUA — There have been few bad nights for Botkins’ boys soccer team this season — none, really, if you define ‘bad’ as losing.
The Trojans avoided having a bad night in a Division III district semifinal on Tuesday at Piqua’s Wertz Stadium and found a bit of redemption with a 4-0 victory over neighboring rival Jackson Center.
The win advances Botkins (16-0-2) to a district final against Troy Christian on Saturday in Bellefontaine. It’s the first district final berth in program history and comes a year an opening-round tournament loss to Miami East ended hopes of a long postseason run and a 14-2-1 season.
Most of the Trojans’ players last year were underclassmen, and the added year of experience looks to have made the team more potent this year. Botkins has outscored its competition 126-6 this season and has shut out its last seven opponents.
“I think we’re peaking right now,” Botkins coach Kevin Lynch said. “I’m excited for the boys, first time getting to go to districts. But it’s going to be tough, and we can’t let up. Hopefully the boys keep working hard and we keep chugging along. (The games) are only going to get harder from here.”
Tuesday’s performance was a bit of redemption for what Lynch said was the team’s worst performance in regular season: a 3-3 tie at Jackson Center in Western Ohio Soccer League play on Aug. 29.
“Their field is a lot smaller pitch and probably only about 60 yards, and with them playing more of a direct game and us playing more of a wider game, that gave us problems,” Lynch said.
“… It was very important for us to come out (tonight) and play our game and not play their game. We play more of control, pass-the-ball game where they loft the ball more and try for more counter attacks.”
On Wertz Stadium’s full-size field, Botkins dominated. The Trojans controlled the ball for most of the game and had 12 shots on goal compared to one by Jackson Center.
The Tigers put up a fight around the goal box early, but Zane Paul finally had a shot go through to the net after torpedoing in a kick from about 15 yards out straight ahead to the back left corner with 16:55 left in the first half. Denton Homan headed in a corner kick from Nathan Schneider with 4:57 left to increase the lead to 2-0.
Jackson Center again started strong defensively in the second half, but the Trojans’ offensive attack seemed to wear down the defenders. Xavier Monnin and Zack Ware scored goals within one minute of each other to extend the lead to 4-0 with 22:29 left.
“You kind of saw them let down once we got that third one,” Lynch said. “… Once we got that fourth one, they pretty much quit. And we chances for many, many more tonight before that, but they gave us a good game.
“… They’re a physical team and we had to come out and be prepared for a hard, physical game. Their crowd really gets into it and that really gets them excited.”
Paul has led the team’s prolific offense with 42 goals. Ware ranks second on the team with 26 and Monnin ranks third with 15. Eleven other players have scored this season, and 14 players have recorded assists.
Lynch said the balance on offense and strong defense anchored by freshman goalkeeper Carson Motter (46 saves) make the team difficult for opponents.
But Lynch is expecting a fight on Saturday from Troy Christian. The Eagles (15-2-2) had been a problem for Botkins in matchups in recent years. After losing in nonconference games the last two years, Botkins won a matchup 2-0 on Sept. 17 in Troy.
“It was tough, and it could have went either way,” Lynch said of the victory over the Eagles.
Troy Christian hasn’t lost since. The Eagles, which won their third consecutive Metro Buckeye Conference title this year, advanced to Saturday’s district final with a 1-0 overtime defeat of Brookville.
Jackson Center finishes 11-6-2 overall. The squad, which will lose 10 seniors to graduation, finished second behind Botkins in the WOSL.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.