John Bruce, Contributor
WAVERLY — The old trope says it’s hard to beat a team three times in one season.
But it’s certainly easier to do if you have a player at the caliber of Wheelersburg’s Aaron Jolly.
On Saturday evening, the junior’s whole repertoire was on display for the paying fans and Wheelersburg needed every bit of it. Jolly finished the night with two goals and an assist in the Pirates’ 3-2 Division III district semifinal victory over a very game Valley squad.
After Wheelersburg (17-1) defeated the Indians (8-8-3) in both of the team’s regular season meetings, some may have thought it would be a cake walk for the Pirates on Saturday night. But coach Jon Estep knew his team would be in for a battle from the opening touch.
“[Valley] came out and controlled most of the first half. They were winning the 50-50 balls and that was something that we talked about at halftime,” Estep said. “If we wanted to take control of the game, we would need to start winning the 50-50 balls and control the midfield. If we do that, then it gives our offense plenty of opportunities.”
Valley brought the intensity from the get-go, giving itself several looks at the goal. However, the Indians wouldn’t be able to take advantage until the 16:35 mark of the first half when Bryce Stuart slammed home a low cross from Cameron Phillips to make it 1-0. Phillips received an outstanding pass from Austin Sommers which led to his cross.
“I told our guys on the sideline that we needed to get one in before the half,” Estep said. “Because I know that I would have gone defense heavy if I was in their situation.”
His team answered the call to action.
Freshman Jackson Schwamburger hit a streaking Jolly, who used a brilliant touch to avoid the keeper and touch it into the back of the net to tie the game with 4:10 remaining in the first half.
“It was a good ball from Jackson down the line. I was able to stay onside,” Jolly said of his first goal. “It was a good pass and I just tapped it to the right and I just got that in.”
After the halftime adjustments that Estep and staff made, the Pirates took control of the second half by winning the 50-50 balls along with Will Darling and Luke Pauley helping control the midfield. Those adjustments really paid off with 28:40 to play as Jolly took a pass from Jacob Saxby, maneuvered his way through the Indians’ defense and calmly finished to put the Pirates in front 2-1.
“I usually try and use my foot skills when I’m surrounded,” Jolly said, describing how he evades swarms of defenders. “Sometimes, they try to use their body to move me off the ball. I know I’m not the biggest, but I can usually just use some skills to get away.”
Jolly set up sophomore Nathan Sylvia for the third and final goal of the night for the Pirates with 16:20 to play.
Valley wouldn’t back down and continued to pressure the ball and the Pirates’ goal. It eventually paid off with 8:45 to play as Phillips scored on a miscommunication by Wheelersburg’s defense and cut the lead to 3-2.
The final minutes were intense and physical, but Valley was unable to get another quality look at the goal as Jolly and Saxby wisely took turns dribbling to the corner flags to run time off the game clock.
Estep raved about his junior striker following the match.
“[Jolly] takes a lot of hits, but he really works hard on his body control, his ability to get lower than defenders,” he said. “Even when he has two to three men on him, his feet are so quick. It all goes back to all of the work that he’s put in over the last several years. It is nice to see a kid like that who constantly works on his game.”
Wheelersburg will be back in action at 7 p.m., Thursday at Waverly’s Raidiger in a Division III district championship game against Lynchburg-Clay.
Shots: WB 20, LV 11
Shots on goal: WB 14, LV 8
Saves: WB 6 (Eric Green 6), LV 11 (Wesley Holbrook 11)
Fouls: WB 6, LV 11
Corners Won: WB 6, LV 3
16:35 — V, Blake Stuart (Cameron Phillips)
4:10 — W, Aaron Jolly (Jackson Schwamburger)
28:40 — W, Jolly (Jacob Saxby)
16:20 — W, Nathan Sylvia (Jolly)
8:45 — V, Phillips