By Doug Chapin
NILES — West Branch High boys soccer coach Matt Thomas apparently isn’t afraid of change.
Thomas has tinkered — perhaps that isn’t a strong enough word — with the Warriors’ lineup since the start of the season.
The result is a nine-game winning streak, including Saturday night’s 2-0 win over fourth-seeded Niles McKinley in a Division II sectional bracket final.
West Branch (11-5-2), which is seeded fifth, advances to a district semifinal against top-seeded Poland on Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the Bulldogs’ home field.
“We didn’t have anybody but our goalkeeper in the same position since we played them,” Thomas said about changes the Warriors have made since a 3-0 loss to Niles (7-8-2) early in the season. “We did a lot of moving around. We put Jake Mellinger in the stopper position and I think he controlled the middle tonight.
“Brian Snoddy and Dylan Schaefer both moved up front for us, one was a defender and one was a midfielder.
“Dylan has some speed and Snoddy can control the ball and they work real well together. Our two midfielders, Austen Rekolt and J.P. Hoopes, were both outside midfielders and we moved them inside where they bring composure to the middle. And our three defenders in the back have been really solid.”
The Warriors, who have nine senior starters, dominated possession for much of the game and also were first to a great majority of the 50/50 balls. West Branch recorded 15 shots, including 10 on goal. Niles was credited with four shots.
“We win the ball in the middle, try to get it outside, then cut it to the middle somehow and try to get it to Snoddy to try to create some things,” Thomas said. “We work on getting the kids to hustle. We know if we do that we can disrupt our opponent’s offense and get our flow going.”
Tyler Strawser tallied West Branch’s first goal with 14:59 remaining in the first half.
After Timothy Frankhouser’s shot from about 20 yards out went off the post, Strawser pounced on the rebound right in front and poked it home.
Snoddy made it 2-0 with 31:29 left in the contest, scoring from about 15 yards out on the left side.
West Branch reached the district final last year, losing 4-0 to Cardinal Mooney. The Warriors lost to Canfield in the district final by the same score in 2006.
“Obviously Poland is going to be a good team and I think they’ve played some of our common opponents better than we have,” Thomas said. “We know it’s going to be a tough one there on their turf.”
J.J. Crowley recorded six saves for Niles and sophomore Matt Latham had four saves for West Branch.