TIFFIN - The Ottawa Hills boys soccer team is making its first-ever appearance at the regional level, so it's only natural that there might be a little doubt that the Green Bears belong at this level.
But some of those doubts may have been dispelled by the Green Bears' convincing 2-0 victory over Mansfield Christian in the Division III regional semifinal played yesterday at Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
"This is unbelievable," said senior Dan Kane, who scored his team's first goal. "I know some of our players may have had some great doubts. But we've come this far "
Ottawa Hills, now 16-0-4, advances to the regional final Saturday against Kidron Central Christian. That regional final will be played Saturday in Ashland starting at 7 p.m.
Mansfield Christian ends its season with a 10-10-1 mark.
The Green Bears dominated play through most of the first half as the Flames seemed content to counter-attack and generate scoring opportunities on set pieces and restarts.
"The scouting report was that they played a transition game. They would pack in [the defense], then release and pack it in in the offensive third," Ottawa Hills coach Greg McElroy said. "So we wanted to try and control the midfield, use high-pressure and create turnovers.
"Our forwards did a magnificent job of creating pressure. Even when they didn't win the ball, they created bad passes that we could intercept."
Ottawa Hills scored with 9:47 remaining in the opening half. Sophomore Ben Bryant hit a corner kick low towards the middle of the Mansfield Christian goal, and Kane headed it high into the net.
"At this level, a lot of the game is faith," McElroy said. "You have to believe the ball is going to fit [in the goal]. A lot of times, in these tight games, open looks are missed because kids have too much time to think about it.
"So that quick shot, that quick cross, that quick header, breaks the ice. I know the goal is 8-by-24, but some times it's hard to know the ball fits. After that, we knew it fit."
Kane said he noticed a difference in his team's play following his goal.
"Everyone was so much happier," he said. "We had great momentum, and after that goal everyone wanted to score a goal, too."
At times in the match it seemed as everyone for Ottawa Hills would get that chance. The Green Bears continued to control play in the second half but were frustrated by Mansfield Christian goalkeeper Cory
McKee and the Flames' defense.
Ottawa Hills finally got an insurance goal with 4:34 left in the contest. On a restart the ball found the left foot of junior Jordan Bernardo about 20 yards to the left of the goal, and Bernardo delivered a high, bending shot over McKee's head into the back of the net.
"There's always a sense of frustration when you can't put it in the net," McElroy said. "If they get a counter [and score], then the momentum shifts. But the fact that we were getting so many opportunities filled us with belief that we were going to make it."
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