By GREG MENGELT
WASHINGTON — Class 2A No. 3 Evansville Memorial used its defense to defend its Washington Regional championship.
Floyd Central’s offense had no answers for the 14-time regional champion Tigers’ defense and fell one goal short of the program’s first regional championship on Saturday.
The Highlanders managed just two shots on goal — both in a five-second span — and eight total shots in the 1-0 defeat at the hands of Memorial.
“Their defense is solid,” Floyd Central’s first-year coach Tim Rice said. “They play angles great, they cut off passing lanes. It was difficult to get a shot off. It also may have been us pressing too much. When you know it’s all or nothing, it affects your game.”
“Defense wins championships,” long-time Tiger coach Bill Vieth said. “In a game like today, you just couldn’t afford to give up very many goals. I thought both teams played good defense and there just were not a lot of chances to score goals. You’re always in the game if your defense is on.”
The 16-1-5 Tigers’ lone goal seemed to come from out of nowhere.
After seven and a half minutes of a defensive stalemate, Memorial sophomore Jacob Schafer’s free kick sailed 30 yards and drifted just over the outstretched fingertips of Floyd Central goalkeeper Travis Foster.
“I don’t hold him responsible at all [for the loss],” Lewis said of Foster. “He saved our butts countless times this year. If anything, we can put this on our offense for not producing a goal.”
Rice added, “It was a good ball that [Foster] just misjudged. It happens. That misjudgment was no different than a player misjudging a ball at midfield. It’s not his fault by any means.
It took the Highlanders more than 34 minutes to get their first shot off. That attempt by Henok Jones was knocked down outside of the box.
“I thought they carried us today because our offense just wasn’t happening,” Vieth said.
Three minutes after Jones had his chance, Zach Lewis had a pair of opportunities to get Floyd even. After a corner kick, Lewis gained possession of the ball in the Memorial box. His first shot from about 10 yards out was knocked away by Tiger senior midfielder Ralph Payne. Lewis corralled the rebound and took another shot, but it was stopped by Memorial keeper Caden McCullough. It was the only save McCullough had to make the entire evening.
Despite having only two shots on goal for the contest, the Highlanders did have their chances to equalize in the second half. At the 20:15 mark, a Varun Alse shot went just wide of the goal. With 8:49 remaining, an open Jacob Austin attempt sailed inches over the crossbar. With 1:07 to play, Chase Gosman saw his free kick miss high.
“Probably the last 10 minutes of the first half and all 40 minutes of the second half, I felt like we kept them under pressure,” Rice said.
Memorial’s best chance to add to its lead came with 16:45 to play when Highlander junior Tyler Menne headed a Zach Conroy free kick off of the corner of the goal. On the play, Menne banged his shoulder on the goal on the play. He was immediately taken off the field and to an area hospital.
Menne’s father and assistant coach Scott Menne revealed in an e-mail to the News and Tribune that his son sustained a broken shoulder.
Menne, who scored the lone goal in the Highlanders’ 1-0 sectional championship win over Jeffersonville, is one of seven starters expected to return for Floyd Central next season.
“We set a goal of getting to semistate and, unfortunately, we came up short,” Rice said. “We have a great group coming back and a good middle school group coming in. We’ll rebound from it. It’s a bitter taste the way it ended and it’ll make us work a little harder in the off-season. It’s a journey. The lessons we learned this year will make us better next year.”
The Highlanders will see 12 seniors graduate in the spring, including Lewis — the team’s leading scorer — their top defender in Alse, and Foster.
Rice said the group helped Floyd Central boys’ soccer move in the direction of being a championship program.
“This senior class is special,” he said. “Some of them had played key roles in the past, some of them hadn’t. It was important for the success this year for those guys to buy into what we were selling. Each one was a leader to help us take the program in a new direction.”
The Highlanders’ season ends with a 13-4-4 record, their first sectional title since 2007 and a 3-1 win over Terre Haute South on Thursday for the program’s first-ever regional triumph.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year,” Lewis said. “We came farther than any Floyd Central soccer team has ever gone before, and I can’t say enough about my teammates and how close we became this year.”
CLASS 2A WASHINGTON REGIONAL
EVANSVILLE MEMORIAL 1, FLOYD CENTRAL 0
Floyd Central 0 0—0
Ev. Memorial 1 0—1
M — Jacob Shafer (free kick), 32:30.
Shots: Floyd Central 8; Evansville Memorial 17.
Shots on goal: Floyd Central 2; Evansville Memorial 9.
Scoring chances: Floyd Central 4; Evansville Memorial 11.
Saves: Floyd Central — Travis Foster 7, Tyler Menne 1; Evansville Memorial — Caden McCullough 1, Ralph Payne 1.
Fouls: Floyd Central 8; Evansville Memorial 6.
Corner kicks: Floyd Central 5; Evansville Memorial 1.
Cards: Floyd Central — None; Evansville Memorial — John Mazzocco (yellow), Jack Vieth (yellow), Zach Bouchie (yellow).