PLYMOUTH — A sectional bye can offer all sorts of advantages.
For Culver Military, it gave the Eagles a chance to scout Plymouth during its Sectional 7 opener with NorthWood Monday.
The visitors found a chink in the Rockies’ armor, and they were finally able to capitalize with a pair of goals midway through the second half en route to a 3-0 win over the hosts in a rainy sectional semifinal Wednesday at Kindt Field.
“It was fortunate for us that we got the bye Monday, and I was able to come out and watch the game and see their adjustments and maybe see a hole on their sides that we could take advantage of,” said CMA boys soccer coach Kevin Green. “WIth this turf and the grass, it was all really who could control the best and who could control those skips as the ball runs through.”
The last time the two teams met in early September, CMA clinched a 2-1 victory in a nip-tuck contest at home against Plymouth.
Wednesday’s Sectional 7 semifinal started out as another back-and-forth battle as the opponents remained locked in a 0-0 stalemate until speedy Eagles senior Luther Jacobs broke through in the box in the 52nd minute.
Jacobs beat one Plymouth defender on a run up the wing, then turned along the end line and beat another Rockies defender inside the box for a goal from in close in the 52nd minute. CMA kept the pressure on, and Manuel Ituarte made another similar run up the wing and deep into the Plymouth box, chipping a shot of Rockies keeper Erik Aguilar’s outstretched hand and into the top of the net to stretch the advantage to two goals in the 56th minute.
Plymouth began pressing as the contest became increasingly physical, and Tanner Grant knocked in the Eagles’ final score on a Jacobs pass following a long ball that got behind the Rockies with just five and a half minutes remaining to put the game firmly out of reach.
“I thought we played real composed that first half and even up until Jacobs scored,” said Plymouth head coach Josh Martin. “We talked about having to take care of both the guys that scored — Luther Jacobs and Manuel Ituarte — that we needed to have those guys under control and under wraps and not to let them get loose. Ituarte had made a couple runs and had gotten loose a couple times. A real shifty guy, and the same with Luther, and they got into our box and had some nice finishes. After the second one I think the wind kind of went out of the sails and the guys started playing real direct. We got away from the game plan and started pushing numbers, and that made it easy for them to get goal number three.”
“The big thing was we just asked our guys to get the balls controlled at midfield and stop playing the kick-and-go and playing into their tempo,” said Green. “They were really pushing us hard with the fast ball, and we were kind of losing the midfield. I think once we settled things down we were able to find our point man up top, which opened up the sides. Two good runs around the side, and that really kind of took it out of them.”
The game was full of close calls and missed opportunities as CMA registered seven shots on goal to five by the home team.
Blake Milliser made a big defensive save in the ninth minute when he cleared a hard Grant shot with Aguilar off his line. CMA goalie Austin Sheldon — who finished with six saves in the shutout — made a quality one-handed deflection of Cesar Aguilar’s free kick just outside the box in the 11th minute to keep the score knotted at 0-0, and an Alex Orellana’s volley sailed a bit wide off Cesar’s ensuing corner kick less than a minute later. A Jacobs chip from close range was saved by Erik Aguilar with 9:20 remaining in the first half, and neither team held a clear advantage going into the intermission.
Kyle Vanlue drove a hard shot from around 30 yards out into Sheldon’s stomach in the 51st minute before Jacobs was finally able to break the stalemate with his solo goal in the 52nd minute. Ituarte’s goal just four minutes later seemed to take away all of Plymouth’s remaining momentum.
“We had some good looks in front of the net. Alex had a volley in front of the net that he missed, Vanlue was pretty close a couple times, and we had a couple scrums around their box that we couldn’t convert,” said Martin. “I thought moving the ball-wise, we moved the ball better this time. Their defensive pressure was really nice, though. They kept us away from their box and kept us from getting a lot of the opportunities that we wanted to find, so hat’s off to them for playing a really organized game in the back.”
“I’d just like to congratulate Plymouth on a great game. I didn’t expect this game to be quite so tight,” said Green. “We had trouble finishing against them. Their back line really held and (Blake Milliser) really played well. Their midfield line was creating a lot of chances so that first half told the story there. It could have gone either way. My hat’s off to them and we wish them luck next season.”
Culver Military improves to 9-7-1 and will play third-ranked four-peat regional champion Warsaw in the championship Saturday night.
“That’s a quality side. We’re going to have to be on top of our game all the way. No mistakes if you’re going to defeat a team like that,” said Green.
“It’s going to be a tough game. I would definitely put Vegas odds against us just because of Warsaw’s skill and experience and what they bring to the table. It’s going to be exciting.”
Plymouth closes the year at 5-10-4, meanwhile, and bids goodbye to seniors Erik Aguilar, Vanlue, Orellana, Armando Diaz and Austin Rose as well as exchange student Afonso Nunes.
“We won more games than we did last year. I thought we gave a lot of games away that we shouldn’t have given away,” said Martin.
“I thought these last few games that we played we showed a lot of progress and improvement, which is promising because we’ve got a lot of sophomores and juniors and a freshman starter coming back next year. We’ve got to replace Vanlue, Alex and Aguilar and Rose, but I think we’ve got a lot of good ball players coming back. If we can take the momentum and the style of play here at the end of the season at the start of next season, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
“We had a wonderful sectional crowd out here tonight,” added the Plymouth skipper. “If that doesn’t get you going and ready to really put some pressure on another team, I don’t know what will. It was really nice to have a good fan base like that, so a big thanks to all of them.”
• CULVER MILITARY 3,
At Plymouth Sectional
Luther Jacobs, 52nd minute
Manuel Ituarte, 56th minute
Tanner Grant (Jacobs), 75th minute
Shots on goal: Plymouth 5, CMA 7
Saves (goalkeeper): Plymouth 3 (Erik Aguilar), CMA 6 (Austin Sheldon)
Corners: Plymouth 7, CMA 6
Records: CMA 9-7-1, Plymouth 5-10-4 (final)