John Bruce, Contributor
WAVERLY — On Wednesday night, redemption was spelled G-A-V-I-N.
After missing a penalty kick with 21:59 to play, South Webster’s Gavin Bennett was looking to redeem himself in any way possible. The senior did just that with a blistering strike from outside the box with 14:25 to play, catapulting the Jeeps into the Elite Eight for the third time in school history with a 2-1 win over Lynchburg-Clay in a Division III regional semifinal.
“I had my head down right after I missed [the PK], it was a good save,” Bennett said following the win. “I just have to thank [his teammates] for making me keep my head. It meant the world to me to being able to get that goal.”
With a driving rain throughout the evening, neither team was able to get much going as far as offensive buildup … especially playing two differing styles throughout the first half.
Lynchburg-Clay (13-5-2) played with finesse and speed, logging many crisp, short passes while eventually looking for through balls to get shots on goal. The Jeeps played more of a power and aggressive style, using their athletes to get the first touch on the ball.
South Webster (16-3-1) appeared to be taking control of the game after 20 minutes, but that wouldn’t last for long.
At the 15:16 mark of the first half, the Mustangs’ Connor Tyree finished a ball off the crossbar to put the black and yellow ahead, 1-0. The play was built up from a corner kick from Triston West, which was headed off the crossbar by Blake Marcelino.
Following the goal, the physicality of the game picked up even more, leading to several fouls and cautions handed out by the officiating crew.
At the half, South Webster head coach Corey Claxon knew the Jeeps would have to make some adjustments.
“In that second half, we really put the pressure on them, and I think on a night like tonight, more shots are going to lead to more goals,” Claxon said. “We got the corner kick and knocked one in, but regardless of the conditions, I’m not sure any keeper was going to save Gavin’s shot.”
Referring to the corner kick, the Jeeps’ Aiden Andrews knotted the game with 35:33 to play, finishing off a pass from Brice Robnett in front of the goal.
Over the next 20 minutes, before Bennett’s heroics, the game was seemingly controlled by two standouts at the center back position. Webster’s Robnett and Lynchburg’s Marcelino were outstanding throughout the evening, with each using their size and strength to keep the opponents at bay while also making an impact on the offensive end as well.
Goalkeeping was next level as well.
Lynchburg’s Gavin Stroop made a brilliant kick-save on the penalty attempt by Bennett, while Webster’s Jaren Lower made multiple diving saves late in the contest. Each keeper ended with five saves on the night.
Defensively, Webster’s Robnett, Zander Rawlins, Brody Boggs, Tryston Robinson, and CR McFann played extremely well to contain the Mustangs’ dynamic attack, keeping them outside of the penalty area for the majority of the evening. Captain Braden Martin manned the midfield for the Jeeps, while the red and black got several attacks from Gabe Ruth and Bennett.
The Jeeps will next be in action in Saturday’s Division III regional final, playing the Wellington School from Columbus.
“We’ve seen them play and they are extremely talented. So we are going to come up with a strategy to keep us in the game,” Claxon said. “We are going to have our hands full, but that’s to be expected when you’re playing some of the best teams from central Ohio. But, we will see what we can do.”
NOTES: The Jeeps previously reached the regional final in 2010 and 2017 … the Jeeps and Mustangs had tied in their earlier meeting this season … only two schools from the Southeast District have ever qualified for the Final Four in boys soccer with the last time coming in 2004.
Shots: SW 11, LC 11
Shots on Goal: SW 7, LC 6
Saves: SW 5, LC 5
Offsides: SW 1, LC 1
Corners Won: SW 3, LC 3
Fouls: SW 17, LC 18