One mistake all night and the Blue Jays made them pay for it.
Washington soccer (23-8) capitalized with a goal late in the first half with Webster Groves goalkeeper Sam Gomez on the sideline to beat the Statesmen (14-6-4) in the sectional round by a 1-0 score Tuesday. The win advances Washington to the state quarterfinal round where it will host North County (22-3) Saturday. Play is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
Playing on SLUH’s home field, the Blue Jays were awarded an indirect free kick right in front of the goal in the 38th minute Tuesday after Gomez illegally received a pass from a teammate. On the first attempt, Michael Andrews made a short bump to Jeremiah Collins as Gomez rushed out of the goal to block the ball off Collins’ foot.
Gomez was yellow carded for moving before the ball was played and Washington was given another attempt while the Statesmen had no keeper on the field. The other players lined the front of the net and were able to deflect Collins’ second shot out of bounds behind the net.
That put the Blue Jays right where they wanted to be as Collins laid a corner kick up to Andrews in front of the net, who headed it past reserve keeper Daniel Placke for the lone score of the game. The goal was a mirror image to the equalizing goal that turned the tide in Washington’s 2-1 come-from-behind win against Pacific in the district championship the previous week.
“Same play,” Head Coach Derek Schriewer said. “Same situation. He made the same run. He drove the same ball in. Subbed in keeper, you’re never going to get to a service like that and sure enough Mike was there to win it. Those two have proven to be pretty important here in the postseason and they’re getting a nice little chemistry coming off our set pieces. Two top players in the city, I believe, and they showed it again tonight.”
The mistake was a turning point of the game as Gomez was otherwise unscathed in the net.
“They have one of the best goalies that we’ve seen all year,” Schriewer said. “He makes a mistake on a set piece and gets himself a yellow card and has to come out and we score on the play that he’s off the field. Kudos to us for seizing the one opportunity that we had. It proved to be the difference tonight. ... He was incredible and we would have had a lot of trouble without that one opportunity. It didn’t look very likely we were going to get goals. We had some chances, but all-in-all it was going to be tough to beat him and we were presented an opportunity where we didn’t have to beat him.”
The Blue Jays held firm down the stretch to protect the lead, getting strong defensive play all around and a shutout from goalkeeper Ottmar Escalante, who came up with 11 saves.
Perhaps his most risky play came with the score knotted at zero midway through the first half when Escalante charged out one-on-one against Statesmen forward Jordan Andrews, the team’s leading scorer, to take the ball away in front of an otherwise unprotected net.
“I always play on my six and every time they filter the ball through their forwards I make sure to pick it up,” Escalante said. “We talk about it in our practices and our halftime game talks. I keep picking them up and our defense stands 10 yards above my 18 and I just win every ball back there.”
Escalante got the start in goal over Christian Longseth, who got the win in the district championship game. The two have divided playing time in the net almost evenly over the course of the season.
“I think Ottmar’s hands and the crispness he has — there were balls that came in and if he gave up any rebound they were there to tap it in,” Schriewer said. “He didn’t give up any rebounds and that’s why he was in the game today to start. We thought it was his style of game for the way they played and sure enough it was good enough.”
Washington wasn’t sitting on its one-goal lead however. The Blue Jays kept Webster Groves on its toes with some aggressive attacks.
“Through our wing-mids, countering with them and our two strikers rolling forward — I thought we looked really dangerous in the second half,” Schriewer said. “I thought we deserved a second (goal).”
Washington advances to the state quarterfinals for the first time in the program’s history. The sectional win serves as vindication for the Blue Jays after being drubbed 5-0 by Rockwood Summit in that same round a year ago.
“This is our second straight year in a sectional,” Schriewer said. “These kids worked all year to get back to this point and sure enough, they made the most of it. ... These kids have put in four years, the seniors, and the juniors have put in three great years for us. It’s all about them. I give them a game plan, but their ability to put it on the field is unbelievable. And then their ability to adapt. They came out and played a little bit differently the second half. Instead of trying to cut in the box, they were trying to get to the end line. The team made the adaptations on the field. I didn’t have to send many changes out there.”
The Blue Jays are one win away from a trip to the semifinals at Worldwide Technology Soccer Park in Fenton, the site where they took second place in the CYC/Bob Guelker Tournament Sept. 23.
On that occasion, Washington was on the wrong end of a 1-0 decision against Wentzville Liberty in the championship game.
The Blue Jays have only lost one game since and they have confidence that they can go deeper still.