By GREG MENGELT
Providence opened the 2013 season with a 2-0 win over Corydon Central.
The shutout was supposed to be a sign of many more to come. Instead, it was the Pioneers’ final regular-season shutout.
Since the state tournament started, however, Providence has turned up its defense. None of seven playoff opponents have been able to get the ball through the Pioneer defense and past goalkeeper Jeff Wiles.
“Midway through the season, I would not have guess we would have seven [shutouts] in a row,” Providence coach Brandon Rogers said. “Our seniors have stepped up. We’ve focused on defense. We knew we had some holes to fill and we’ve filled them.”
Providence has outscored its seven tournament opponents 20-0 en route to Saturday’s Class A state championship game against No. 1 Guerin Catholic at Carroll Stadium on the campus at IUPUI in Indianapolis.
“Seven shutouts are impressive,” senior Nick Reas said. “It’s even more impressive considering throughout the entire regular season, we only had one shutout. It hasn’t just been the defense. The offense has been great, the midfield has been great. It all contributes to [the shutout streak].”
“It’s freakin’ amazing,” Pioneer senior defender Tommy Davis said. “We’re playing phenomenal right now.”
Wiles said playing behind the Pioneer defense has made playing goalkeeper easier than it should be.
“[The defense] has been making shots harder for everyone,” Wiles said. “They’ve been shutting down people and making my job easier. It’s great knowing no team has been able to score on us and that we’ve stopped everything.”
The defense has been nearly perfect throughout the tournament. When it hasn’t been, Wiles has been there to save it.
“He’s made some great saves,” Reas said. “There have been some times when [opponents] have gotten by me and I’ve been worried they were going to score, but he just comes out and makes a great save. If I make a mistake, I know Jeff will be there to stop the shot. He makes us believe he will stop every shot, no matter what.”
If the Pioneers are going to continue their scoreless streak — and win a state title — they’ll have to slow down Guerin’s George Poppas. The senior All-State candidate has 23 goals and 20 assists in 22 games.
“We’re really going to have to concentrate on him,” Davis said. “We have to be sure to stop him.”
“We really have to watch out for him,” Wiles added.
The Golden Eagles will provide the Pioneers’ biggest postseason test. They’ve scored 54 goals in 22 games, including 14 total and at least two in each of their five tournament games.
“We’ll have to be excellent,” Wiles said. “Guerin Catholic is a top-scoring team. We just have to play as hard as we can. We have to play hard for 80 minutes and not have any letdowns and make sure nothing gets past.”
“It’s going to have to be the best we’ve played all year,” Rogers said. “Every player on the team is going to have to bring their A-game.”
And if the scoreless streak does come to an end, it’s not the end of the world.
“Even if we do get scored on, so what?” Reas said. “There’s still a chance for us to come back and win.”
“Defensively, I think if we can lock them down,” Rogers said, “I think we can win it.”