FULTON — Argos sophomore striker Damon Binkley has already put in plenty of hero moments for his team this season.
On Thursday, he added a few more.
Fresh off his sectional championship-sealing score in the final minute against Bremen last Saturday, Binkley notched a hat trick and an assist, helping power the Dragons to a 4-2 Caston Regional Semifinal win over Carroll.
“He loves the game of soccer; he plays pretty much all year round. He’s been our go-to guy all year,” said Argos boys soccer coach Todd Van Der Weele. “Sometimes our guys sit around and watch him a little too much, which concerns me — they need to all stay involved — but he’s a special kid and he just continues to get it done for us. He likes to get the ball in the net and he likes to win.”
Binkley put Argos on the board with a clean-up goal in the seventh minute, and, after Justin Willoughby knotted the match at 1-all with a free kick in the 12th minute, he assisted Zach Stockman’s sliding left-footed go-ahead with a cross through the Carroll box in the 22nd minute.
Stockman returned the favor less than four minutes later when he brought the ball up the wing and served Binkley a forward pass, which the latter put away from close range to give the Dragons a two-goal advantage with 14:46 left in the first half. Binkley’s penalty kick after being tripped up in a 2 v 1 in the middle of the Carroll box early in the 30th minute sailed into the near upper 90 and all but clinched the game for Argos at 4-1.
Willoughby scored again on a clean-up through a crowd of players off a throw-in in the 71st minute, but it was too little, too late as the Dragons advanced to play Oak Hill — a 3-0 winner over Peru in the late semifinal at Caston — in a bid for a repeat regional championship Saturday.
With the Argos girls hosting their own regional championship against Wheeler at 7 p.m. Saturday, the Caston championship has been moved up to 4 p.m.
“Our team seems to be the type that if we can get going, one seems to usually bring another one and so on. I think that helped calm things down,” said Van Der Weele of his team’s flurry of three goals in an eight-minute span late in the first half.
“These guys keep working hard. They’re not earning it. Obviously the other team’s not giving it to them, and I’m proud of them for that,” he added.
Playing on a converted football field at Caston — even with the field boundaries extended a few feet out into the sidelines — Argos took a little while to adjust to the narrow dimensions of the pitch, but once the Dragons got rolling, they dominated possession with 10 shots on goal to Carroll’s five and seven corner kicks to two by the Cougars.
Jacob Mechling tallied three saves in goal to preserve the win for his team.
“I think it took us a little bit of time. We played here last year so we knew what to expect, but you still have to adjust,” said Van Der Weele. “I think what helped us was trying to establish our possession right off the bat, which we did. We did pretty well for the first 15 minutes or so and then kind of went away from it. I think that’s what helped us initially to overcome the lack of space.”
Argos now advances to play Oak Hill for the regional title this weekend.
The Dragons will defend their 2011 championship — sealed by a 6-1 rout of West Lafayette — in a rematch of last year’s Caston semifinal, which the Dragons won by a narrow 2-1 margin. The Dragons return eight starters from that squad and are seeking to give the 49-year-old program — founded in 1963 as one of the two original soccer programs in the state — its first regional title repeat.
“I think the guys are finally realizing what they can do,” Van Der Weele said. “They know how they can approach a team, and as long as we can focus, we’ve played with everybody on our schedule and we have some pretty good teams on our schedule. I think as long as they can keep that, we can keep this run going.”
• ARGOS 4, CARROLL (FLORA) 2
At Caston Regional semifinal
A — Damon Binkley, seventh minute
C — Justin Willoughby (free kick), 12th minute
A — Zach Stockman (Binkley), 22nd minute
A — Binkley (Stockman), 26th minute
A — Binkley (penalty kick), 30th minute
C — Willoughby, 71st minute
Shots on goal: Argos 10, Carroll 5
Saves (goalkeeper): Argos 3 (Mechling), Carroll 5 (Seth Eldridge)
Corners: Argos 7, Carroll 2
Record: Argos 18-1-1