Second-half surge powers Mustangs

Solid defensive effort keeps Jays in check

Sentinel photo by JEFF FISHBEIN
Midd-West's Aidan Steininger tries to block a kick by Central Columbia's John Bodenman during their Heartland Conference boys soccer game Tuesday in Middleburg.

MIDDLEBURG — After a dominant first half that ended in a scoreless tie, Midd-West found the opening it needed in the second, where the Mustangs put away Central Columbia, 3-0, in a Heartland Conference boys soccer game.

Carter Knepp had the goal that mattered most, taking a rebound after Nick Eppley fired at the Blue Jays’ net, only to have the ball carom off a defender and back to Knepp, who buried in the goal.

Knepp, who spent the fruitless first half as a forward, was moved back to the midfield after the break to create more opportunities for him to play the ball, and the strategy clearly worked.

“Carter’s a fantastic player. He can beat a team 1-v-1,” Midd-West coach Chris Sauer said. “We kind of switched off a little bit — we had him up top in the first half. He got some good touches on the ball but he didn’t touch it enough.”

The move to center mid proved to be crucial.

“The more times he touches it, the more dangerous we’re going to be,” Sauer said.

The Mustang coach also referred to his speed demon of the sideline, senior mid Evan Eppley, as a factor — although his most notable contribution was on a corner kick, delivering a ball that Connor Erdley finished for a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes left to play. The goals came 12 minutes apart after nearly 50 scoreless minutes to begin the game.

“That’s just a credit to our guys to stay with it. We thought we should have had one or two in the first half,” Sauer said. We weren’t very effective in the attacking third with our crosses — we were playing right to the keeper or didn’t get past the first defender. We definitely cleaned up and played much more dangerous balls from the flanks (in the second).”

Chase Strohecker had the final tally late in the game, a solo shot from the corner of the goalie’s box. The Jays hadn’t had a real oportunity for five minutes at that point, at stat that was unchanged in the final 17 minutes of play.

That last Central Columbia play on goal was interesting — Midd-West goalie Chase Roush was called for touching the ball outside the box, which resulted in a free kick for the Jays. They tried to rush the play, and nearly cut the lead to a goal at the time.

“After coaching for quite a few years you’ve seen quite a bit. It’s easier to stay relaxed in those situations,” Sauer said. “I think our guys needed us on the sideline to be calm.

“I don’t know that Chase made too many saves, but he stepped up and was big when he had to be. He showed a lot of confidence after not having much action basically for the whole beginning of the season.”

The Mustangs had five solid attempts in the first half, two of them by Nick Eppley. His shot in front six minutes in off a rebound went high; a minute later Evan Eppley went wide shooting across the goal from the bench side.

Central Columbia missed on a bicycle kick in front of Roush before the game was 10 minutes old, and at the 15-minute mark Roush pulled to play a ball and the Jays had an opening but couldn’t finish it.

Erdley tried a cross in the 26th minute of play, and Nick Eppley had a close shave just inside the 10-minute mark. A minute after that was Midd-West’s open-goal opportunity but Chase Strohecker was denied by a defensive save.

“When you look at the major scoring opportunities, they were heavily in our favor,” Sauer said. “We were just a little more decisive than they were.”

Just two minutes after the first goal, Strohecker had a chance to match it but the ball bounced the wrong way. Aidan Steininger had a good chance to head one into the net but it, too, bounced away. Knepp almost added one at the end but the ball turned off his foot away from the net.

Central Columbia, meanwhile, had just two opportunities in the second — a direct kick that went wide then the free kick the Midd-West stopped.

Midd-West (5-0, 3-0) travels to Milton today.

Midd-West 3, Central Columbia 0

Second half

M–Carter Knepp (Nick Eppley), 32:11; M–Connor Erdley (Evan Eppley), 19:40; M–Chase Strohecker, 12:08.

Shots: M 5-2. Corners: M 6-2. Saves: C-2 (Gabe Darragh); M-2 (Chase Roush).