An unspoken connection between Evan Lee and Matt Almester led St. John’s Jesuit to a comeback victory over Southview in a Division I district soccer championship Saturday.
The Titans claimed its third straight district title despite trailing the Cougars 1-0 with just over 25 minutes left before a capacity crowd at Southview High School.
Almester, a junior, scored the tying goal, and his efforts also resulted in the game-winner with 11:47 left. Lee assisted on both goals as the Titans emerged with a 2-1 victory.
St. John’s (17-2-0), which was ranked No. 6 in the final Division I state poll, advances to face Perrysburg, a 2-0 winner over Norwalk Saturday, in the regional semifinal Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“We’ve had great chemistry all year,” Almester said. “We’re the leading scorers, and we always seem to find each other in the right place. This is the biggest win of the season because if we lose we go home. We continue on.”
The Titans also received clutch play from sophomore goalie Casey Shugarmann, who had eight saves.
But the Cougars took a 1-0 lead with 3:56 left in the first half on junior Jared Yoshino’s rebound goal.
“We came out flat without every piston firing,” St. John’s coach Timothy Concannon said. “At halftime we told them this is it. This is the last game if we don’t pull it together. We came out with a lot of fire. The guys gelled and pulled it out.”
St. John’s scored the game-winner when Lee intercepted a ball and sent it up to Almester deep in the Cougar end.
“I was being proactive, and I took the ball, and I found our goal scorer,” Lee said.
The Titans scored on an own goal by Southview as Brad Brown accidentally deflected Almester’s shot into his own net.
“I was trying to score, and it happened to go off their guy,” Almester said. “I’ll take it.”
Shugarmann then came up with the save of the match — a diving save on Yoshino’s point blank shot with 10:50 left — to maintain the one-goal cushion.
“He is an excellent goalie, and he’s stepped up,” Concannon said. “He’s our guy.”
Southview continued to pour on the pressure late with a shot by Brandon Sinram and two by Chris Ellis to no avail.
Heavy pressure in the second half did pay off for the Titans who tied it at 1 on a nice play from Lee to Almester. Lee sent a quick pass up to Almester who got behind the Cougars defense. Almester then faked a shot and went to his left foot to score the goal with 25:09 left in the game.
“I just tried to put it on frame and hoped it would go in,” Almester said.
Lee said he and Almester began to gel last season when the Titans made a run to the state semis.
“We just have fun with each other,” he said. “We were able to put it all together today, and we came out victorious.”
Cougars goalie Eric Breeden made several good stops in both halves.
Southview, which won the Northern Lakes League title (6-0-1) for the first time since 2004, was playing without its leading scorer. Junior Daniel Blackmar was sidelined with a concussion he suffered in the Cougars’ 1-0 win over rival Northview in the district semis. The Cougars saw their season end with a 12-3-2 record after reaching the district championship game for the first time since 2004.
Southview had taken a 1-0 lead in a regular season match up with the Titans. But St. John’s roared back with five unanswered goals to win 5-1.
“The second half they came out and really pressured us,” Southview coach Chad Cody said. “Then we lost track of Almester on a run off the ball. He’s the type of player that is going to put it in the back of the net. Their front guys put a lot of pressure, and it caused some turnovers and confusion.”
Southview got on the board first in the waning moments of the first half on a play off of a corner kick. Senior Trevor Kanwal sent the kick into the box, and Brown got off a shot that Shugarmann stopped. But Yoshino was right there for the rebound.
“Down 2-1 we could have packed it in but we kept pressuring and had some opportunities. Their goalie came up big in the second half,” Cody said. “It was a great season. No one expected us to be here. We were the only ones.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.