The clock was nearing the final minute of the second overtime period when the Owensboro soccer team got its biggest goal of the season. The late score lifted the Red Devils to a 1-0 win over Apollo, and more importantly sent them to the championship game of the District 9 Tournament.
OHS (14-4-1) will play Daviess County in the title game, while Apollo (8-8-4) will head into the offseason. It was the third time the teams played this season, and all three contests ended in a 1-0 decision.
After an incredibly back-and-forth game that featured numerous saves, strong defenses and powerful shots, the winning goal came off a deflection that bounced into the net.
Andrew Saltsman slotted a pass in to Paxton Jenkins, who made an attempt from the right side of the box. It clipped an Apollo defender and switched directions before bouncing in, and it was an unexpected ending to an eventful game.
Eagles’ head coach Ryan Poirier said he and the team stood there shocked, and it hurt to lose on an unusual goal after such a close fight. He said it doesn’t help knowing Apollo is more talented than some teams that will advance from weaker districts.
“We played so well,” he said. “We had such good chances. I knew it was going to be a tough, tight game like that. Some of those teams moving on don’t have the schedule we have or the district we have. It stinks we have to go home, but that’s where we’re at, so we have to break through.”
The first half was nearly even in time of possession, so Red Devils’ head coach Ryan Haley said the team had to make some adjustments. Though they came out and controlled more in the second period, the game was still scoreless in regulation.
“The first half, I thought we rushed a little bit,” Haley said. “We played very direct up the field. Every time we got the ball, it was off to the races. At halftime, I made it an emphasis to slow down and possess the ball.”
Poirier was never concerned about playing such a close game, as the Eagles’ entire schedule was meant to prepare them for this situation.
“We’ve had such close, hard-fought games all year,” he said. “I knew we were going to be ready for something like this and be up for the challenge.”
Haley said he never got worried, and it was actually the most fun game he’s ever coached. As the game wore on, he got more confident Owensboro would come away victorious.
“When we went into overtime, I wasn’t worried because I thought we were doing a good job,” he said.
Poirier said it’s going to take a while to get over the loss, but he’s proud of the season his team had. The Eagles will lose 10 players to graduation this year.
“I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” he said. “I love this team. It’s tough to say goodbye to them.”
Owensboro, meanwhile, will begin preparation for another meeting with Daviess County, who easily beat Owensboro Catholic in the other semifinal. The Panthers have beaten the Red Devils twice this season — 4-3 and 9-0 — and will try to do so again to win their fifth consecutive District 9 Tournament.
Both teams will automatically advance to the Region 3 Tournament next week at Apollo, but Haley said his team doesn’t want to settle for second place. He knows it won’t be easy to dethrone the Panthers, though.
“I think we can upset anybody,” he said. “I think County is definitely the big dog around our city right now. If we want to win a quality game, we’re going to have to play quality soccer.”