By John Kovach
GIRARD — Sometimes a player being in the right place at the right time on the soccer field can mean the difference between victory and defeat for a team.
Junior Nathan Lotze of South Range proved to be just that player in the Raiders’ Division III district tournament semifinal game against Badger High at Arrowhead Stadium on Tuesday night.
With the score tied at 2, Lotze just happened to be in position right in front of the net when Tyler Ausnehmer kicked a long cross-field pass to the front of the goal with under 10 minutes left.
Lotze alertly spotted the pass heading toward him, and redirected the ball into the net with 9:35 remaining for a goal that ultimately gave the Raiders a 3-2 victory, and a berth in Saturday’s final.
South Range will play Bristol, which beat Maplewood, 1-0, in the other district semifinal Monday.
It was Lotze’s sixth goal of the season while Ausnehmer was credited with the assist.
“[Ausnehmer] put [the ball] in front of the net for Lotze, “ said South Range (14-2-2) coach Bill Wagenhouser. “I’d like to say, yes, [the play was planned],” but it wasn’t, he admitted.
Coach Karl Martin of Badger (13-2-3) said that Lotze “was doing his job in the back post. He was where he was supposed to be.”
And that, “[Ausnehmer] got off a long kick from the side across the field and Lotze had the good sense to redirect the shot into the net.”
Wagenhouser called Lotze “a good all around player in his third year. He’s a junior and he’s coming back.”
In fact, the coach said a lot of his players are returning.
“We have nine sophomores on the team and they all play a lot,” said Wagenhouser, who believes speed was the difference in the win over Badger.
“Both teams were evenly matched but I think we were quicker than them. This is the first time I ever beat them,” said Wagenhouser, in his fourth season.
The coach also said depth was a difference. “I think our bench was stronger,” he said.
Martin agreed with Wagenhouser.
“They were the quickest team we played this year,” said Martin. “They had a lot of team speed. They ran a lot on us and we tired at the end.”
Badger built a 2-1 lead in the first half on goals from sophomore Adam Wiley and freshman Ben Meardith, but South Range retaliated early in the second half to tie it at 2-2 when Jordan Baker connected for a goal at 31:47.
Then the two teams battled to for about 20 minutes until Lotze finally got the game winner at 9:35 on Ausnehmer’s assist.
Then Badger’s offense tired and wilted.
South Range goalie Isaac Schuster had 13 saves.
Shawn Brainard started in goal for Badger and was replaced by Tyler Lucey. Brainard “then went to play the center position had an outstanding game,” said Martin, noting “Lucey had seven saves.”
Badger took a 1-0 lead with 27:45 left in the first half when Wiley tapped in a shot from just in front of the net.
The play materialized when a Badger player kicked the ball across the field, and the goalie came out to block it. But Wiley got to it first and tapped it in.
About five minutes later, South Range tied it at 1-1 at 22:32 when the Badger goalie accidently knocked the ball into the net.
What happened was that the Raiders’ Clayton Proch took an angle shot on net, and the goalie tried to redirect the ball and it hit an upright net pole. Then he accidently kicked the ball in instead of out of the net.
But about six minutes later, Badger came right back to score when Meardith kicked a line-drive shot into the net from near the middle at about 16:35 for a 2-1 advantage that held up until the half.