CENTERVILLE — At the beginning of the season, the Tippecanoe boys soccer team was determined to make it back to the D-II Sweet 16 — they have exceeded those expectations as they prepare of the state semifinal game Wednesday at Impact Stadium in Marysville against Bishop Watterson.
It will be Tipp’s third trip to the Final Four in the last five years.
“Our goal every year is to win the district title and we hadn’t done that the last two years,” Tippecanoe coach Joel Slyman said. “Making the Final Four, I am not sure about that.”
Facing an undefeated Oakwood team in the district finals — Tipp avenged last year’s loss to the Lumberjacks in the same game with a 1-0 victory.
The Red Devils rolled to a 5-0 victory over Jonthan Alder in the regional semifinals, before facing a rematch with Summit Country Day in the regional final Saturday.
The Knights had handed Tipp a 3-0 loss early in the season, the Red Devils only loss this season.
“The first time we played them, we made some bad mistakes early in the game,” Slyman said. “We got down early — in the first two or three minutes — and were playing from behind the whole game.”
Tipp was determined to change that this time around.
Two big plays occurred in the opening half.
First was a huge save by Michael Jergens with about 19 minutes remaining in the half to keep the game scoreless.
“We felt like gave them one good opportunity to score in the first half,” Slyman said. “Michael Jergens just made a phenomenal save. That was huge.”
Tippecanoe junior standout Landon Haas is at his best in the biggest moments and Saturday was no exception.
He broke the ice with a goal with nine minutes remaining in the half.
“That was huge (to score first), Slyman said. “Especially, scoring that late in the first half. That gave us all the momentum going into the locker room.”
Haas would add a second goal — off a Caleb Ransom assist — with 19 minutes remaining in the game to make it 2-0.
“Cameron Smith had a long throw-in,” Slyman said. “Caleb (Ransom) was able to flick it over to Landon (Haas) and he just buried it with his front foot.”
Slyman knew with a team the caliber of Summit Country Day — the game was far from over.
“You would like to think you could hold a two goal lead,” Slyman said. ‘But, Summit Country Day is a great program. They have multiple district, regional and state titles — you knew they weren’t going to lay down. But, the way the game was going and the way we were playing, you just felt like we were going to win.”
Jergens and the defense were up to the challenge.
“The only goal we have given up in the postseason is in a 9-1 win over Brookville,” Slyman said. “That was just a commitment to relentless pursuit of the ball for 80 minutes (to shut out Summit Country Day). And that is just not Michael Jergens, that is the entire defense. And Michael would be the first one to tell you that.”
Now, 20-1-1 Tippecanoe will play 15-5-4 Bishop Hartley for a chance to play in Saturday’s state championship game.
“Their (Bishop Hartley) record is totally deceiving,” Slyman said. “I know they play one of the toughest schedules in the Columbus area. They are not going to back down to anybody.”
Nor will the Red Devils.
“We are just excited to have this opportunity to play in the state semifinals,” Slyman said. “One of the reason I felt so good about this team and this season, is this team is a bunch of guys who just love playing soccer with each other.”
And they will get to do it again Wednesday night.
Sports Editor Rob Kiser can be reached at [email protected]