By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
MEDINA -- There was reason for the Champion High boys soccer team to believe that something good was going to happen Tuesday night.
The Golden Flashes watched Wellington pelt their goal with four shots that bounced off the crossbar -- three in the first half -- and each time they came away unscathed.
"I thought somebody was watching out for us tonight," Champion coach Nate Mailach said. "But all it takes is one loose ball in the box to end your season."
For the Golden Flashes, that was one too many in the Division III regional semifinal at the Medina soccer complex.
Tough way to lose
Senior Ryan Hyde scored on that loose ball in the box with 3:23 remaining, as Wellington ended Champion's season, 1-0.
"This is our third time in the regional, so I guess the third time's a charm," Wellington coach Bill Little said.
The teams played in sloppy conditions, on a field that was overcome with standing water from a steady rain. Balls were slowed in puddles, as players splashed their way through the sogginess.
"They had a few shots that were close, and they finally just put one in," Champion senior John Emery said. "Both teams had the same opportunities. We played the best we could under the conditions."
Mailach thought those conditions would benefit his team against the Dukes (18-1-1), who thrive on quickness and passing.
"We thought the conditions were going to help us, with our style of play -- our long-ball play and our scrappy play," Mailach said. "It seemed like once it stopped raining [in the second half], they started picking up their game a little bit and we had a hard time adjusting."
Champion's rhythm was also broken in the second half when Emery, the team's leading scorer, was injured with 21 minutes remaining. He sat out about six minutes because of a shin injury.
"That took some wind out of our sails," Mailach said.
Emery comes close
Emery, who ended his Champion career with a school-best 99 goals, had several good opportunities, especially in the first half, but he could never break through for that key score.
"He almost had a couple in the first half, and after they saw what he's capable of, they started keying on him more," Mailach said. "I heard them yelling out, 'Where's No. 3, watch No. 3.' "
Mailach even tried to motivate Emery by yelling "99," hoping his senior could reach the 100-goal mark.
"Obviously, we're not the hardest team to scout in the world," Mailach said. "We're going to give it to [Emery], and he's going to do what he can. He did all he could tonight."
Emery hopes to play college soccer. Although he's had about five coaches seriously scouting him, the senior remains undecided.
Champion goalkeeper Rich Slama was impressive in defeat. The junior was instrumental in keeping Wellington scoreless for much of the game, finishing with 11 saves.
"He was unbelievable tonight," Mailach said.
Champion (15-1-4) will lose four seniors off this year's team. In addition to Emery, the Golden Flashes will graduate Chris Palm, Nathan Blazak and Aaron Gamet.
"From June until now, I couldn't ask for more, especially from guys like John Emery and Chris Palm, who played their hearts out for four years," Mailach said. "It's a tough way to see them go out."