By KEVIN HARRIS
FLOYDS KNOBS —
The Providence boys’ soccer team faced a major challenge on Saturday at the Class A Floyd Central Semistate.
The Pioneers needed to win two games against a pair of top-10 teams to capture their first-ever semistate championship.
Providence jumped over its first obstacle in Saturday’s semifinal. Senior Pierce Crawley converted a penalty kick in the first seven-minute overtime period as the Pioneers knocked off Class A No. 4 and defending state runner-up Evansville Mater Dei, 3-2.
But Providence ran out of energy in the championship game, losing 2-1 to sixth-ranked Covenant Christian (Indianapolis). The Warriors (10-12-1), who claimed their first semistate title, will play defending state champion Fort Wayne Canterbury in next Saturday’s Class A state championship game at the Michael A. Carroll Track and Soccer Stadium in Indianapolis.
Despite falling short of reaching the state final, Pioneers’ coach Brandon Rogers lauded his team for an overachieving 2012 campaign.
“It’s been an absolutely great season,” Rogers said. “No one expected us to get this far. I’m proud of my boys.”
Things looked promising for Providence (13-6-2) in the latter stages of the first half.
With 6:30 left in the opening stanza, Crawley moved the ball up the field on a breakaway and then kicked it from 12 yards out on the right side of the goal. The ball tipped off the hands of Covenant Christian goalkeeper Steven Watson and trickled into the right corner of the goal.
Even though the Pioneers led 1-0 at halftime, they got outshot on goal 10-6 in the opening half. Rogers thought his team needed to step up its intensity on defense.
“We knew we had to press them because they had too many chances in the first half,” Rogers said. “They have an excellent team. They are no different to any team that we’ve played this season.”
Despite the Pioneers’ efforts, the Warriors connected on two goals in the second half.
The game’s momentum shifted to Covenant Christian on its first goal. Sophomore Jeremiah Rader scored 6 minutes and 54 seconds into the second half to tie the score at one. Rader knocked a shot into the right corner of the goal from 15 yards out past Providence keeper Jeffrey Wiles.
Pioneer junior Evan Hollkamp tried to answer Rader’s score in the game’s 52nd minute. But his 15-yard shot on goal on a breakaway got saved by Watson.
The Warriors took the lead for good with 18:18 remaining in regulation. Covenant Christian senior Ian Oechsle rebounded the ball on a deflected shot in the goalie box. Oechsle then booted the ball into the goal to put the Warriors up by one.
Providence had two more chances to tie the contest. But Crawley could not connect on a 25-yard shot with 5:25 remaining. Then with nine seconds left, Pioneer senior Andrew Wimp attempted a 20-yard shot on the right side. But the ball went over the goal and shortly thereafter, the Warriors had an exuberant on-field celebration.
Rogers thought playing the overtime in the semifinal had a big effect on his squad versus Covenant Christian.
“We had no gas in the tank,” Rogers said. “I think [the overtime] took a lot out of us. We had a much tougher first game than they did. We came in tired. They brought the pressure and we couldn’t handle it.”
The Warriors outshot the Pioneers on goal, 21-6. Wiles ended up with 11 saves.
Providence says goodbye to four seniors in Crawley, Wimp, midfielder John Murray and sweeper Cody Schrank.
“They will be sorely missed,” Rogers said. “Those guys will not be easy to replace. But you’ve got to play on.”
Crawley set up the eventual game-winning goal when he drew a foul on Mater Dei senior Sam Goad in the penalty area with 7.3 seconds left in the first seven-minute overtime. As a result, the referees granted Crawley a penalty kick.
Crawley lined up the ball on the PK and knocked it into the upper right corner of the goal past Wildcat keeper Jered Schenk, giving the Pioneers the 3-2 advantage.
“I was just thinking about putting the ball where I’ve practiced it. I played the ball with some pace,” Crawley said about converting the PK.
Rogers had lots of confidence the PK would go in because it was Crawley, the Pioneers’ leading scorer and one of his captains.
“Once he got fouled, I knew it was a goal,” Rogers said. “We just had to hold on.”
Mater Dei (11-8-3) got two free kicks at the goal in the second overtime period by seniors Joe Hayden and Brennan Murphy. But Providence’s defensive wall blocked each shot to secure the one-goal lead. The Pioneers also kept their advantage in the second OT by spreading the field and keeping the ball away from Wildcat defenders.
Another critical goal for the Pioneers happened in the closing minutes of the opening half. After senior Austin Hoefling put Mater Dei up 2-1 in the game’s 33rd minute, Hollkamp tied the game at two with 3:33 left in the half. Hollkamp evaded several Mater Dei defenders and kicked the ball past Schenk into the right corner of the goal.
Hollkamp’s score gave the Pioneers a huge momentum boost that they sustained for the rest of the contest.
“We knew if we took care of the ball, we were in this one,” Rogers said about his team’s mindset after Hollkamp’s goal. “We definitely felt like the underdog entering this game. I’m 100 percent impressed with my boys. They played tough.”
Crawley scored the Pioneers’ first goal at the 32:56 mark of the game from 15 yards on the left side, deadlocking the game at one.
Mater Dei outshot Providence on goal, 20-16. Wiles had another solid postseason game with 10 saves.
Covenant Christian defeated 17th-ranked Greensburg in the first semistate semifinal, 3-0.
CLASS A FLOYD CENTRAL SEMISTATE
COVENANT CHRISTIAN 2, PROVIDENCE 1
Covenant Christian 0 2—2
Providence 1 0—1
P — Pierce Crawley, 33:30.
CC — Jeremiah Rader, 46:54.
CC — Ian Oechsle, 61:42.
Shots on goal: Covenant Christian 21, Providence 6.
Saves: Covenant Christian — Steven Watson 1; Providence — Jeffrey Wiles 11.
PROVIDENCE 3, EVANSVILLE MATER DEI 2 (OT)
Providence 2 0 1 0—3
Ev. Mater Dei 2 0 0 0—2
MD — Adam Kissel, 28:52.
P — Crawley, 32:56.
MD — Austin Hoefling, 33:21.
P — Evan Hollkamp, 36:27.
P — Crawley (penalty kick), 86:52.7.
Shots on goal: Providence 16, Mater Dei 20
Saves: Providence — Wiles 10; Mater Dei — Jered Schenk 7.