Hitting back on the counterattack, the Helias Crusaders advanced past the Union Wildcats in MSHSAA Class 2 sectional soccer action Tuesday night at Stierberger Stadium, 1-0.
In the 70th minute, Helias forward Braden Remmert took a quick pass up the field from teammate Gage West to put the ball past Union goalkeeper Trey Fink for the game’s only goal.
The marker came moments after Union had a scoring chance in the Helias end.
The Wildcats had one final chance at the buzzer, but TJ Vitt’s sliding effort at a crossing pass at the far post deflected just wide.
On a night better suited for a snowball fight than a soccer match, Union ended its season with a 16-11 record while the Crusaders improved to 19-5.
“I’m proud of the way the kids played,” Union Head Coach Matt Fennessey said. “They played hard. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. We played well on both sides of the ball. We got the goal-scoring chances we thought we needed. We got the low crosses we thought would be dangerous against this team. We just couldn’t find an end on it. Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Helias will host Carthage (22-5) Saturday at 1 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
“It’s like I told the boys before the game,” Fennessey said. “Helias was ranked 10th in the state right now and we gave them everything they could handle. It was a one-goal game. We knew we were going to be in this type of game. Unfortunately, they got the break on the long transition goal. That’s something we talked about at halftime. I’m so happy for this group. If you would have told me Aug. 5 that we would be in this position, I would have been really excited. The team really came together. It was fun coaching them this year.”
Despite losing the game, Union controlled the ball for much of the game and generated a number of scoring chances.
The first one came in the ninth minute when Union’s Dylan Fitzgerald tested Helias goalkeeper Kyle Daledovich with a shot which went just over the crossbar.
Union’s next strong scoring chance came in the 32nd minute when Vitt scorched a shot which Daledovich saved. Vitt made his attempt after the ball was partially cleared and shot from distance.
In the 34th minute, the Crusaders got a scoring chance which went just wide of the post.
The half ended tied 0-0 with both teams fighting the weather as well as each other.
The Wildcats came out kicking in the second half. In the 43rd minute, Alex Ciot worked in from the left side near the six-yard box and had a chance, but the Wildcats couldn’t knock the ball into the goal.
In the 46th minute, Fink was called upon to make a save on a Helias effort.
In the 56th minute, Union’s Tylor Brown looped a long shot from the sideline which would have dropped into the goal had Daledovich not played the ball correctly to make the catch near the crossbar.
A sequence which foreshadowed the eventual goal happened in the 64th minute. Union had a scoring chance following a long throw by Brown, but Helias countered and forced Fink to come up with a big stop to keep it tied.
Vitt had another long effort come close in the 65th minute and Helias missed in the 66th.
Following the Helias goal, Union pressured the net hard.
In the 70th minute, the Wildcats had a corner kick chance cleared.
Union continued to push for the equalizer and every second counted down the stretch.
The final flurry came in the closing 15 seconds and ended just short of an equalizer.
“This group really stepped up with their senior leadership,” Fennessey said. “We had a couple of guys in Alex Ciot and Nathan Saleniuc who stepped up and became big leaders. We had new guys while Trey Fink and TJ Vitt were newcomers who came in. Trey made big saves for us all year long. TJ almost had that one at the end. We had kids who stepped up and we’re going to miss them.”
Fennessey also said there are many strong players coming back next season.
“We’re going to lean on Dillon Breeden and Andrei Ciot, two starters from this year, to come back and lead the way,” Fennessey said. “You never know what is going to happen from year to year. We thought we were going to be in a goalie situation this year and Trey emerged. We’ll see what we have next year.”