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South Range opponent focused on defense

Against Kidron Central Christian in a Division III regional final last Saturday in Louisville, the South Range High School boys soccer team turned a scoreless match around quickly, scoring three times in under 10 minutes en route to a 3-0 victory.

“Usually, once we get our first goal, we always get at least one more,” said senior standout Canaan Johnson, who scored the first goal on a penalty kick, picked up an assist to classmate Quinn Pierson for the second goal and scored the third on a laser from distance. “We follow up pretty well and we did that and left no doubt. It’s exciting.We feel when we get that first one, it opens the door.”

The Raiders (19-2) are hoping the same scenario plays out tonight in a state semifinal against Bluffton (17-2-2) at Doylestown Chippewa.

Although they would prefer if their first goal comes a little earlier.

The Pirates have used patience and a strong defense to reach this level. Bluffton, which was not ranked in the final Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association poll, upset top-ranked Toledo Ottawa Hills 1-0 (4-2 in penalty kicks) in its regional final.

The Pirates won their district title by beating Riverdale 1-0 in overtime and then beat Fairview 2-1 in overtime in a regional semifinal. Behind standout goalkeeper Nic Essinger, the Pirates have posted 11 shutouts and allowed 14 goals. Essinger had nine saves in the regional final, including two in the first overtime and two in the shootout.

“They definitely take a defensive approach and their flat-four back line is strong, the keeper is outstanding and they are organized and very well coached,” Raiders coach Mike Bailey said. “They were definitely defensive heavy against Ottawa Hills, so that’s what we expect to see. You don’t change your tendencies at this time of the season.

“When we face teams that rely heavily on defense because they don’t match up well with our speed in the midfield, it’s up to us to make things happen and get that first goal. The earlier, the better. That changes an opponent’s desire to just sit back. They have some good weapons and did have some opportunities in regulation (against Ottawa Hills). So they can score if you don’t pay attention to your own defense.”

That hasn’t been a problem for the Raiders, who have posted similar numbers as the Pirates, with 10 shutouts and 14 goals allowed.

“We’ve gotten great play defensively and sometimes that goes unnoticed,” Bailey said. “Christian Abrigg is a senior center back who has really stepped up into a leadership role this year after a lot of injuries early in his high school career. Our stopper, Camden Thomas, is just a sophomore, but he’s a high-caliber player who brings a lot to the table and the boys trust him. He also has 14 goals and six assists.

“Our outside backs, Dakota Bartels and Jacob Regule have had great senior seasons and our keeper Matt Lucas has really made strides these past few years after getting a late start in soccer.”

South Range has scored 95 goals this season and Bluffton has scored 74. Converting penalty kicks in the shootout were Tayton Kleman, Simon Derstine, Jonathon Schriner and Collin Oglesbee.

“We’re really excited because (reaching state) was our goal in the preseason and now we’re here,” Bailey said. “This is our third time at state in six years, but I told everyone in the preseason that this is our best opportunity yet. This is the best team I’ve coached here and that’s no disrespect to our previous trips because those guys laid the foundation.”

The winner tonight will play Columbus Wellington (16-2-3) or Botkins (19-0-2) in the final Sunday at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus.

“It’s amazing right now being at South Range. We’ve got a football team in the playoffs, we’re at state and our boys just competed in the state cross country meet. It’s a testament to the school district, administration, the families and the community. The support has been wonderful.

“The community, I believe, is unique. We’ve got parents whose kids are no longer in school coming out and supporting our teams. It’s just such a great time and it’s fun to be a part of it all.”