The Warrior Run Defenders lived up to their name in the District 4 Class AA boys soccer quarterfinals Saturday at the Balls Mills complex.
While Konnor Sidler and Elias George may have scored their second-half goals, it was the Defenders' back line and defense limiting the Midd-West Mustangs in the game's first 15 minutes that led to a 2-1 victory. Up next is Central Columbia in the semifinals this week at a time and place to be determined.
Midd-West dominated possession at the outset, keeping much of the early action inside the Defenders' 18-yard box as the Mustangs started with a strong wind at their backs. But they only managed two shots in the first 15 minutes, and both cleared the crossbar.
The Mustangs also had 3 corner kicks in that time, and couldn't get a shot off on any of them.
"We've been working all week on solid team defense all week. Reassure, reassure, reassure," said George, a forward and top scoring threat. "We're out a starter on defense (James Hamm) with a toe injury, but we hope he'll be back. We really came together."
George credited defenders Chase Snyder, Alex Wehr, and Nick McCormack in particular.
The Mustangs eventually got off 7 first-half shots, and finally struck when Sebastian Callender overcame a stop by Warrior Run defender Collin Walburn to score out of a scrum on the next play. But that was it, try as Callender and Tyler Arbogast might to find chances in front of the Warrior Run goal.
"We've done well with possession and creating chances, but we've struggled all year to finish them off," said Midd-West (12-7) coach Chris Sauer. "It gets tougher and tougher to get clear chances and they don't come across very often. You have to at least put them on goal, and we didn't do that."
Midd-West's only real second-half opportunity once Sidler tied the game at 43 minutes on a header was when Arbogast charged toward Defender keeper Jason McWilliams on a breakaway at 53 minutes, but his shot sailed high.
The rest of the match was mostly a midfield slog, decided when George took a left-side pass from Zack Miller at 66 minutes. The Defenders took 4 shots on goal, including one by Miller that struck the crossbar in the first half, and scored on two. Coach Doug Bastian said neither came off a set play, but by patient players improvising.
"We just told the boys they have to maintain their composure. Playing into this wind to start, we'd have our chances in the second half," said Bastian. "I'm proud they played with that much composure, starting two freshmen and two sophomores."
Bastian intended to keep his offense on the ground in the wind, saying that Midd-West was strong through the air and that the rash of early corner kicks was an indicator. Midd-West then struggled to find much offense in the second half when it played into the wind.
"Our second half was disjointed," said Sauer. "Mentally, some guys were worried about a one-goal lead and not playing soccer like we can. We got panicky, and allowed them right back in it."
MW - Sebastian Callender 30; WR - Konnor Sidler 43; WR - Elias George (Zack Miller) 66
Shots on goal: MW 9, WR 4. Corner kicks: MW 7, WR 2. Saves: MW (Elijah Fisher) 1. WR (Jason McWilliams) 2.
Records: Warrior Run 14-5. Midd-West 12-7