It’s not often you can find a St. Xavier boys soccer team coming into a match wanting to prove doubters wrong.
But that’s what happened Monday evening, as the 12-time state champion Tigers, the No. 5 team in the state coaches’ association poll, scored all of their goals in the first half to eliminate host Manual, 3-0, in a Seventh Region quarterfinal.
After being limited to just three shots total in their 2-0 loss to Collegiate in last week’s District 26 final, the Tigers came out blazing against the No. 6 Crimsons (14-1-2). They registered 11 shots in the first 40 minutes, placing eight of them on goal.
“We were really just focused on this game because we felt like we didn’t give enough effort against Collegiate,” senior striker Sam Graber said. “We had a chip on our shoulder to prove to everyone we deserve to advance.”
Two goals 94 seconds apart in the waning moments of the first half sealed the game for the Tigers. Up 1-0 with under three minutes left in the half, Graber took a throw-in deep on Manual’s side of the field. His throw went into the box, but it was cleared back to him. As he approached the goal, he said he saw Manual’s keeper cheating to intercept a possible cross. That gave Graber enough space to put his shot in toward the near post with 2:33 remaining.
Andrew Klem, who scored the first goal with 13:41 left in the half, finished the scoring with 59 seconds left by heading in a Trent Ennenbach corner kick.
“Klem’s first goal really set the tone,” said Graber, referring to the junior’s shot off a loose ball from just outside the 18-yard box. “That was a great goal. After that we just kept pounding it in.”
Not only did St. X advance, the Tigers also avenged a 1-0 Sept. 15 loss at Manual. In that game, however, the Tigers were without key players like Ennenbach, Bennett Moorman and Brad Middletown. All of those starters are critical to the Tigers maintaining possession, Graber said.
Manual had its chances early, too. But coach Bob Ramsey felt the missed opportunities in the first 15 minutes were critical as his team didn’t have the same energy later in the first half.
“If something could’ve happened there positive… it puts them on their heels a little bit,” he said.
Manual’s best chance in the half came moments after Klem’s first goal. Dylan Barth had a clear chance from the right edge of the box, but St. X goalkeeper Clayton Allen went low to preserve St. X’s advantage.
Manual’s best second half opportunity came with 16:10 remaining after a Crimson attacker was brought down in the box. That set up a penalty kick for Barth, who entered the game with a team-best 23 goals. However, Allen read the kick correctly, diving to his left to smother the senior forward’s low shot and keep the Crimsons off the board.
With the victory, St. X now returns home to play a semifinal Wednesday against No. 21 Christian Academy, which held on to beat Atherton 2-1 Monday. With a win then, a possible rematch against either Collegiate or top-ranked Trinity, which beat the Tigers 2-1 on Sept. 28, would take place Saturday afternoon. But coach Andy Schulten said his team isn’t looking ahead.
“Heck, as soon as this game was over, we were struggling to realize what we were going to do for practice today,” the coach said. “We’re living for the very next day, the very next session we can get together.”