LIMA — Having played defense for so long, after allowing a tying goal with 4:14 left in the second half, the Wapakoneta Redskins pulled out a surprise and managed to retake the lead just 35 seconds later.
On the pitch for just 2 minutes after leaving with an injury, Wapak freshman Alex Lause broke loose behind Shawnee’s defense, was one on one in front of the Indians’ goalkeeper, fired a shot toward the top of the net and scored with 3:39 left in the second half.
The Redskins’ bench and fans erupted in celebration having just negated Shawnee’s equalizer 35 seconds earlier.
Wapak’s defense held in the final minutes to secure a 2-1 win Thursday over the Shawnee Indians in a Western Buckeye League varsity boys soccer match.
The win clinched an unbeaten regular season in WBL play for the Redskins, as they went 6-0-3 and finished second in the league behind the St. Marys Roughriders, who clinched the WBL title outright Thursday with a 7-0-2 record after a 8-0 win over Van Wert.
Redskins junior Collin Lenhart put his team on the scoreboard with a goal at 21:56 in the first half.
Normally an offensive-minded team, Wapak decided to withhold its attack midway through the second half in order to bolster its defense.
“We got up 1-0, and I’ve told the guys that I was never going to sit on a lead, but we kind of sat on it the last 15 minutes of the first half,” Wapak varsity coach Keith Rambin said. “I thought we’ll try to push it and get to two goals in the first 20 minutes of the second half, and if we don’t, I’m just going to drop back.
“I had my four best defenders back there,” he said. “I can’t put a better line back there.”
Rambin placed Lause, Sam Hinegardner, Will Hinegardner and Bailey Hinegardner in the Redskins’ back row.
But as soon as Shawnee tied the match, Wapak returned to its customary lineup, moving Sam Hinegardner and Lause in front of Wapak’s formation.
“Alex was playing defense when they scored,” Rambin said. “After Shawnee scored, I told myself I would rather lose than tie another ball game, so I came back and moved Alex and Sam back up top after they got the equalizer.
“We caught them off guard,” he said. “They were expecting us to sit back, we put the pressure on and it worked. It was the biggest goal of his young career.”
Lause’s goal almost didn’t happen.
He left the match at 12:33 remaining in the second half after getting banged up and returned at 6:18, less than 3 minutes before he scored the go-ahead goal.
The Redskins retained their second-place spot in the WBL with Thursday’s win, while Shawnee moved down to third at 6-2-1.
Both teams had an outside shot to win the WBL entering Thursday, pinning their hopes to an unlikely St. Marys loss to Van Wert, who finished winless in the WBL this season.
“Everybody stepped up,” Rambin said Thursday. “Tonight was a team win. We played as well as we could have played.”
Rambin reflected on Wapak’s regular season and its second-place finish and unbeaten record in the WBL.
“I’m proud we finished alone in second place. Everybody was predicting us to finish fifth, sixth or seventh in the league. Our starters only gave up five goals in the WBL.
“I’m proud of the guys,” he said. “11-2-3 is very respectable.”
With the regular season complete, Wapak will move on to the postseason starting Monday with a sectional semifinal match against the Bath Wildcats from the WBL as part of the Division II Northwest District tournament.
Wapak and Bath tied 1-1 in their regular season match, a contest that was divided over two days after a lightning delay halted play on Sept. 10.
“We’ll focus on Bath,” Rambin said. “We don’t really want to focus on the revenge factor. We just want to take of business, and if we get a win, that’s good.”