BELLEFONTAINE — A strong defensive effort — and a little luck — helped Botkins’ boys soccer team earn its first district and regional titles last year. Coach Kevin Lynch is hoping that formula will help the team make another deep postseason run this year.
It worked well on Monday night when the squad survived a challenge from Xenia Legacy Christian and won 2-1 in a Division III district semifinal at Bellefontaine’s AccuSport Stadium. The Trojans will return to Bellefontaine on Thursday to face undefeated Springfield Greenon in a district final.
The Trojans (14-3-1) have 15 letterwinners back from last season, when they advanced to a D-III state semifinal. They played a stout nonconference schedule this season to prepare for postseason play and faced state-ranked opponents in Troy Christian and Lima Shawnee.
“We’ve got a lot of good seniors,” Botkins coach Kevin Lynch said. “Hopefully, we can end it like they want to end it.
“… They’ve got big expectations. I just take it one game at a time.”
The Trojans benefited from stout defense and luck last year in their tournament run. The squad was severely outshot in both its regional games but eeked out 1-0 victories.
Botkins and Legacy Christian (13-1-1) each had about 15 shots on Tuesday. The Trojans were able to score on two lucky shots.
The first goal came with 31:24 left in the second half. Senior forward Zane Paul took a pass and dribbled up the visitor’s sideline as two defenders kept pace. Another defender and Legacy Christian’s goalkeeper all converged on Paul about 10 yards out from the goal.
Paul and a Legacy Christian defender both fell over the goalkeeper, who slid out to try and grab the ball. But the ball hopped away from the players after the collision and slowly bounced into the net.
The lead lasted all of 30 seconds, as the Knights immediately drove down and scored when Josiah Entner crushed a shot into the net to tie it 1-1.
“I thought we’d have the momentum after that goal, but they scored so quick on that nice shot, it didn’t last long,” Lynch said. “They were a nice team and a good challenge.”
The Trojans were able to score again with 6:37 left after a throw-in. Paul hit a header that slowly sailed up about 20 feet in the air, arched and fell to the ground behind the goalie outside the net. Dalton Lane tapped the already rolling ball into the net to give Botkins the lead.
“Just the way we draw them up,” Lynch said. “…Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. But effort is big, and there was effort. We wanted to put it in the back of the net more than they wanted to keep it out.
“We talk about that all the time in training sessions. We have to want it in more than they want it out. Just a lot of hard work by the boys.”
The Trojans have had a three-pronged offensive attack this season. Senior Zack Ware has scored a team-high 25 goals while Paul has scored 25. Junior Xavier Monnin has been a scoring threat, too; he’s scored 22 goals.
Junior Nathan Schneider has also been a key offensive player. He’s scored 13 goals and leads the team with 13 assists. Paul has recorded 10 assists while Ware and Monnin each have eight assists to their credit.
Sophomore goalkeeper Carson Motter has helped lead a defense that’s given up 15 goals this season. He has 68 saves to his credit and had a season-high 13 against the Knights on Tuesday.
“We were pretty well organized tonight,” Lynch said of the team’s defense. “We let (Entner) go wide on us and get that shot. But they were fairly well organized. A couple of times we overran the ball when we shouldn’t have and let (Entner), who is left-footed, cut back to his left instead of keeping him on his right foot.
“We’re pretty much going to go as far as our defense takes us, just like last year. We’ll just have to see how far we go.”
Botkins was ranked 11th in Div. III in the final state coaches association poll while Greenon (17-0-1) was ranked No. 10. The Knights were voted as the Dayton D-III sectional’s top seed while Botkins was voted No. 2.
Greenon has outscored opponents 146-15 this season. Junior Trent Green has scored 46 goals this season while six other players have scored 10 or more goals.
It rained throughout Tuesday’s game, and National Weather Service forecasts are calling for rain on Thursday night.
Which is good news for Botkins according to Lynch.
“Hopefully it rains,” Lynch said. “We love the rain. In rain and cold weather, we’re at our best. We love it.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.