November 6, 2003
finish in regional finals
To get to the regional finals of the Division III boys soccer tournament at Fairborn High School last Saturday night, you had to pass under two mammoth stone archways and climb a dizzying number of stairs to sit in a crowd so charged with excitement you might have thought you were at a Roman Coliseum awaiting a spectacle of blood, sweat and tears.
In this case, the spectacle was watching the Yellow Springs High School Bulldogs scrape their way around the Cincinnati Madeira Mustangs to get 1 goal before falling 2–1 to the defending state champions. In the end, hundreds of Yellow Springs fans cheered proudly for one of the best soccer teams the village has seen.
Madeira advanced to the state semifinals with a record of 19–0–2. The Bulldogs finished their stellar season 19–2, and became the first team from YSHS to reach the regional finals.
A fine mist was the only thing settling at the game’s kickoff, as the Bulldogs had to calm their nerves before taking on their opponents. With a tight passing game, Madeira was able to keep the ball in the Bulldogs’ half of the field, giving goalie Matt Phillips the action he has craved all season. But the Bulldogs held off the Mustangs, as stalwart defenders Mike Hosket and David Suzel slid, headed and jumped everywhere but out of their skin to clear the ball out, and Aaron Zagory used his golden foot to boot the ball to Madeira territory.
With 20:39 left in the half, the Bulldogs took the lead off a great corner kick. As fans pounded the stands with their feet, Scott Keyes kicked a low line drive to Duncan Silvert-Noftle, who kicked the ball in the goal on the first touch. Yellow Springs fans erupted with a force that caused this reporter to drop her notebook and pen.
But just as the Bulldog fans took their seats, Madeira’s Jimmy Cummings routed the ball to the Yellow Springs nets and gave the other side cause to rise up and cheer. Everything was even but the referees’ calls, were mostly on YSHS, and as the Bulldogs grew more frustrated so did their fouls.
The Mustangs scored their second goal of the night off a free kick with 13 minutes to go in the half.
At halftime, YSHS coach Jim Hardman crossed the field to talk to the referee before huddling with the team at the break.
The Bulldogs gained control of the second half, getting several good shots in the period’s first 10 minutes. But when the ref called a foul on the Bulldogs for tripping a Mustang defender who was running behind a YSHS player, the Bulldogs’ momentum was thwarted.
Two Yellow Springs players would later receive yellow cards. The Bulldogs could not capitalize on several more corner kicks and other scoring opportunities. With three minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs had a corner kick, but the ref blew the whistle on what the crowd thought was a questionable call, cutting short the Bulldogs’ last good chance to score.
Phillips had two great saves in the last 10 minutes, once leaping to tip the ball over the cross bar.
The silence in the stands as the last seconds melted off the clock echoed the disappointment on the faces of the Bulldogs, who had high hopes of reaching states. The players barely noticed when their fans finally gave them a standing ovation.
“We knew it would be the hardest game all year, and that if we played as good as we could play, we could beat them,” Noah Woodburn said, fighting back tears after the game. “We were all freaking out a bit, and there is so much pressure wondering when it’s going to be the last game.”
Noting that the unusually wet grass hurt the Bulldogs’ ability to control the ball, Woodburn said that the team struggled on offense and lost its focus. Madeira’s defense was also solid, turning back many of the Bulldogs’ charges.
Ryan Silvert said that the Bulldogs did their best. “We played as hard as we could,” he said. “I didn’t think we were getting the calls, but the mistakes we made, [Madeira] took advantage of.”
Hardman told the players at halftime that to have a fighting chance they needed to take some risks. The players improved, but the reffing did not, he said. Though Hardman said that the refereeing did not cost Yellow Springs the game, it made a big difference. “I was just asking for a fair shake,” he said. “In a close game like this, those reluctant calls really impact the outcome.”
Hardman said that he was proud of his team for scoring on a squad that gave up only 3 goals during its regular season. “That’s an accomplishment in itself,” Hardman said.
The Mustangs moved the ball and played together well, he said, but their big-game experience made the difference. “For us it was really about getting here and seeing what this is about,” Hardman said.
YSHS has consistently improved each year for the past several years. Last year the Bulldogs won the Metro Buckeye Conference, this year they won the MBC and the district finals, and next year, with many returning players and some upcoming talent, they could go even further.
“They know now what it takes and what it’s like to play at this level,” Hardman said. “We’ve got a good chance of getting back here next year.”