Athens Bulldogs

Athens’ Brian Johnson takes the ball upfield against McClain on Saturday. Johnson and the Bulldogs topped the Tigers, 5-3, to advance to the district semifinals.

Note: This recap appears in the Tuesday, Oct. 22 newspaper on Page A6.

GREENFIELD — The Athens Bulldogs boys’ soccer team punched their ticket to the district tournament with a decisive 5-3 win over the McClain Tigers Saturday in Greenfield. Although the final tally was only a two-goal difference, the Bulldogs controlled the match and the result was never in doubt.

Just 3 minutes into the game, Aziz Al Harbi received the ball to the left of goal and about 15 yards out. Al Harbi sent his shot towards the far post, where it deflected off a Tiger defender into the goal to put the Bulldogs up 1-0.

McClain responded less than a minute later with a nice header goal by Jase Allison. After that, the Bulldogs had a barrage of shots: Will Pigman played Andrew Lewis who sent one over the bar; Al Harbi tried to get his second but was denied twice by the keeper; and Braulio Rosas-Clouse had a beautiful shot that Tigers keeper Noah Reeves managed to push just over the bar.

It was just a matter of time before the Bulldogs made good on all their effort. At 25:30 Lewis switched the field from the left side to the right where he found Pigman. The senior stalwart right winger played it into Danny Goetz, who dispatched a low, hard shot to put Athens up 2-1.

“We had a good game,” said Pigman. “We played well and had some nice passing.”

For the next 6 minutes Rosas-Clouse and Goetz took turns testing Reeves, who made several saves — including a sprawling one on a low effort from Goetz. At the 17-minute mark, the Bulldogs earned a free chance and center defender Will Matters stepped up to the take the kick from 40 yards out. There were a plethora of players in the box, and Matters lofted a beautiful kick over the crowd into the path of Goetz, who was sprinting in from the right side. Goetz nailed a header to the upper far corner, putting the Bulldogs up 3-1.

The boys from Athens kept the pressure on with some nice work by Lewis, Brian Johnson, Al Harbi and Rosas-Clouse. Close to the end of the half, Zane Evans won the ball and passed it to Goetz. With 10 seconds left on the clock, Goetz worked by several defenders and hit a shot into the left corner that the diving Reeves couldn’t save.

The second half was much the same as the first, with the Bulldogs defensive unit of Wes Dodrill, Matters, Donovan O’Malley and the strong midfield play of Lewis, Pigman, Johnson, Moss Leobker-Conrad, Zach Reifler, Papa Hughes, Brady Jaunarajs and Rosas-Clouse keeping the ball in the Tigers’ end. Jaunarajs and Johnson had good looks, but the next two best chances for Athens came from McClain infractions.

First, a Tiger player was called for a handball in the box, which led to a PK. Athens keeper Finn Mitchell was called in, but he put his spot kick just left of the post. Later, Pigman worked hard to get the ball into the box and a Tiger player was called for playing on the ground. Athens got an indirect kick about 5 yards from goal. The ensuing shot hit the wall and the rebound shot was beautifully saved by Reeves.

The final tally for Athens started with Rosas-Clouse slipping through Goetz, who took it left of goal and squared it back to the PK spot. Evans was sprinting towards the goal, and he sent a shot past Reeves to put Athens up 5-1 with about 10 minutes remaining.

The Tigers did have some life left in them, scoring with about 9:00 minutes left on a goal by Haydon Hice with an assist by Memphis Beatty. They then made it 5-3 when Griffin Foltz connected on a cross from Braeden Bergstrom.

Athens backup goalkeeper Nico Barr, however, made sure there was no more late drama. He made the save of the game came with 1:00 minute left, diving to punch a free-kick out of harm’s way.

The Bulldogs advance to the district semifinals, where they will play the Marietta Tigers on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Logan. Marietta topped Hillsboro, 6-1.

“We’re so happy with the team’s play, and that everyone is healthy going into the game against Marietta,” said Diki.

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