LAGRANGEVILLE Miles Ogihara saw first-hand last season what a championship-caliber team looks like. And while he was thrilled to have a front row seat and be included in the celebration, he yearned to make his mark.
One of the greatest players ever to come through the Solomon Schechter boys soccer program is Ari Leffell, who led the Lions to two Class C titles in three years. But with Leffell graduating in the spring, it was clear that Schechter would need someone to fill his scoring void.
Ogihara seized the opportunity.
“I knew we were going to lose Ari Leffell and Chuck Hochfelder, who were really important offensive players,” the sophomore striker said. “I sat on the bench last year, so this year I was trying to prove myself during the preseason.”
Ogihara led the Lions in scoring during the regular season, but his coming out party came during Friday’s Class C final against Hamilton, a rematch of last year’s championship game.
Trailing by a goal with less than 10 minutes to play, Ogihara weaved a pass through traffic to assist Jonathan Rand on the equalizer. And it overtime, Ogihara came through with the golden goal, giving top-seeded Solomon Schechter a 2-1 win and its third title in four years.
The Lions will play the Section 11 champion in the regional semifinals at Lakeland on Wednesday.
“Being the smallest school in Class C by a significant number, we just wanted to make a statement,” Ogihara said. “And being a Jewish day school, it’s a little bit hard to keep up with some of these schools that are naturally more athletic than us. It just means a lot that we have the pride to show the bigger teams that we’re here to compete, too.”
The second-seeded Red Raiders struck first when Capy Charles dribbled into the box and found Cristian Sanchez in the 11th minute. Hamilton continued to apply pressure throughout the game, outshooting the Lions 24-13, but Charles was the focus of the Schechter defense and goalkeeper Noah Dunn made eight saves.
“We know who their really good players are,” Ogihara said. “Capy is exceptional and we had to do something to shut him down.”
Player of the game: Miles Ogihara, Solomon Schechter — With an assist on the tying goal and a calm finish for the winning goal, Ogihara played a part in both of the Lions key moments. He’s become their most dynamic player as a sophomore.
Turning point: Rand’s goal in the 71st minute completely shifted the game in Schechter’s favor.
“All season, there were a lot of times when we were down 1-0 or 2-0 and had to come back to win the game,” Rand said. “And it was the same mentality here. Keep fighting, get the equalizer and then eventually momentum gives us the win.”
Stat line: Solomon Schechter (10-4-2) — Ogihara had a goal and an assist, Rand scored and Daniel Kohen had an assist. Dunn made eight saves. Hamilton (8-9-1) — Sanchez scored on an assist from Charles and Conor Brosnan made three saves.
Quotable: “We beat (Hamilton) 1-0 on the road in our second game and then lost to them in OT in the last game that we played them at home,” Rand said. “Today we went to overtime in the sectional championship and we definitely have a mutual respect. They’re a good team.”