By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
PIQUA — The Troy boys soccer team got one final test before the postseason begins.
Because rival Piqua, on its Senior Night, came ready for a battle.
In the end, though, the Trojan defense kept the Indians off the scoreboard — including one near-mistake that turned into a clutch play late in the second half as the Trojans protected a one-goal lead — and Troy scored an insurance goal shortly after that to put away a hard-fought 2-0 victory to close out the regular season Thursday night in Piqua.
With six minutes to play and Troy (11-3-2, 7-1-1 Miami Valley League Miami Division) clinging to a one-goal lead, Piqua sent a long pass towards Troy’s goal. Troy keeper Sklyer Reed rushed out to clear it, but it took a funny hop and caught him on the chest instead of the foot, sending it careening towards Piqua’s Nathan Buecker and leaving Reed out of position.
But Reed, backpedaling as quickly as he could, got back inside the box just as a shot was fired off, and he was able to swat it down with one hand and allow a teammate to clear it out harmlessly.
“He was aggressive on the ball,” Troy coach Richard Phillips said. “He came out aggressively to clear it, saw the danger coming. And his recovery that he had, he recognized the danger and came out to stop it then recovered going back to the goal.”
“That’s been our downfall all year, putting the ball in the net,” Piqua coach Bob Jennings said. “I thought tonight we probably played one of the best games we’ve played all year. And again, we had opportunities to score and just couldn’t capitalize on those opportunities. That play in particular was a big one. If we can put that in and tie the game up, it’s a big difference.”
Shortly after that play, with 3:49 remaining, Jon Hipolito sent a through ball to Elijah Williams, who buried a shot to give the Trojans an insurance goal and some breathing room to hold on for the rest of the match.
Offense has definitely been the weakness for Piqua (4-8-4, 1-6-2 MVL Miami) all year, including in its five-game losing streak to end the regular season. Aside from the Indians’ four wins, they only scored three goals in the other 12 games, with six losses coming by shutout.
“In the first half, we had a one-on-one with the goalie, didn’t get off the best shot and he was able to make a save,” Jennings said. “Those kind of chances, if we put those in, it’s another game. But I was very happy with how our boys played.”
The Piqua defense, though, has played well during that same five-game stretch, not giving up more than three goals in any of those games. And Troy, despite coming in with one of the MVL’s most potent offenses, including the top two leaders in points in the MVL Miami Division, struggled throughout the night despite numerous chances.
“It was one of those games you come into and have a confidence about how you’re playing, and they immediately take that away from you with the way they structured play in that defensive mode,” Phillips said. “They plugged the middle on us, and we didn’t exploit that, couldn’t break it down, didn’t use the width of the field in that first half. We were frustrated and not getting the ball wide, and they (Piqua) did a good job. They played us tough.”
“Our defensive back four and five we sub in are all seniors, and they have been fantastic all year,” Jennings said. “Led by Jarret Powers in the middle and our other captain Chase Vaughen on the right back, those guys have just done an excellent job. And tonight, they did a fantastic job shutting Troy down most of the night.”
With 22:07 left in the first half, Williams found Mitchell Francis open in front of the Piqua goal, though, and Francis hit a high shot that Piqua’s goalie deflected off the underside of the crossbar, with the officials ruling that it had broken the plane of the goal and giving Troy a 1-0 lead.
The Trojans were able to protect that lead, too, until Williams’ late goal put the finishing touches on the win.
It was the closest match in the rivalry since 2013, when Troy also won 2-0. The last time Piqua won in the series was in 2009, a 1-0 tournament victory.
Piqua honored its eight seniors — Evan Hicks, Seth Furbee, Eli Baker, Brock Schlosser, Ethan Heidenreich, Colin Baugh, Vaughen and Powers — before the match. The Indians will open tournament play Tuesday at Carroll.
Troy, meanwhile, has a first-round bye in the tournament, hosting Miamisburg in the second round at 1 p.m. Saturday at Troy Memorial Stadium.
“The regular season is over, and a new season starts Monday,” Phillips said. “We’ve just got to prepare for what’s coming, try to stay healthy, get healthy. That 1 p.m. game makes it tough.”
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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