By GREG MENGELT
For 63 minutes, Providence took shot after shot at the North Harrison goal and couldn’t get anything past Cougar senior goalkeeper Nathan Wayman at Monday’s Class A Providence Sectional opener.
When shots weren’t wide of the goal, Wayman made spectacular stops to frustrate the heavily-favored and defending sectional champion Pioneers.
With 16:39 left, Providence freshman Juston Betz took advantage of a Cougar mistake and snuck a shot past Wayman to give the Pioneers the goal they needed in a 2-0 victory.
North Harrison senior Alex Robson failed to clear a ball in the North Harrison box. Betz was there to settle the ball and tap it toward the goal. The ball went between Wayman’s legs and went mere inches over the goal line.
“It bounced twice and was just out of the reach [of Robson],” Betz recalled. “I got on top of it and just barely got it past the goalie.”
“Juston is the kind of player who works his tail off to get on the ball and get in position to score,” Providence coach Brandon Rogers said. “I bet he’s had 10 goals like that this season, where he’s in the right position at the right time. It wasn’t a great finish, but I have to give him credit for being there.”
Betz wasn’t around when the 9-6-2 Pioneers made a run to last year’s Class A semistate. All he wanted to do on Monday was help his team advance into the next round, where it will face Rock Creek Academy (11-3) in Wednesday’s second semifinal.
“It felt really good,” Betz said. “The seniors really wanted to win and they were relying on everyone else to help. It’s an amazing experience in my first really big game.”
After spending most of the game playing defense, North Harrison (5-5-2) had a couple of late opportunities to tie the contest. With the Cougars moving forward, Brenden Tucker was able to get behind their defense. He fed a pass to Logan Rauck, who put the shot — and the game — away with 12.6 seconds left.
Providence took advantage of North Harrison’s packed defense to easily out-shoot the Cougars in the first half. In the first part of the second half, the pressure on Wayman and the North Harrison defense increased.
However, as the Pioneers’ shots mounted, so did their frustration and not beating Wayman. Rogers had a flashback to two years ago when Christian Academy upset favored Providence with the same strategy.
“The exact same game happened to us two years ago,” Rogers said. “The type of opportunities we had tonight weren’t really the kind of opportunities we wanted. From 25 yards out, we’re not going to beat a lot of keepers that way. Something clicked and we finally started getting good looks in the second half. We can’t wait until the second half against Rock Creek.”
“We were trying to make sure we took away the gap between our midfielders and our defense,” North Harrison coach Clint Clark explained. “We knew we had a good keeper and our back line is strong and Providence is a great passing team.”
Of course, one of the biggest frustrations was the play of Wayman, who had double-digit saves and kept the potent Pioneers off the board for three-quarters of the game.
“He had a huge game,” Rogers said of Wayman. “He stepped up. It seemed like a remake of two years ago where they had a strong keeper in goal and we just couldn’t get it past him. Props to him. He played well.”
“He is incredible,” Clark said. “Providence had a lot of great opportunities and he came up big on most of them.”
Providence beat Rock Creek 7-1 last week, but Rogers said he understands that the Lions will steal North Harrison’s strategy to try to stay in the game.
“They have some speed up top,” Rogers said of the Lions. “I’m hoping this game tonight is a perfect reminder that we can’t come in at 50 percent. Any time we’ve had a lopsided win in the regular season, I’m going to expect that team to come in and pack it in and try to counter us. We know what’s coming. We just have to play our game.”
PROVIDENCE 2, NORTH HARRISON 0
North Harrison 0 0—0
Providence 0 2—2
P — Juston Betz (unassisted), 16:39.
P — Logan Rauck (Brenden Tucker), :12.6.