The Warsaw boys soccer team would love to play at least one more home game this season.
If that happens, it means the Tigers are back playing in the semi state come Oct. 20 at WCHS.
Coach Scott Bauer’s highly-touted group, ranked No. 2 in Class 2-A, must first try and win a tough Mishawaka Regional championship.
The Tigers, who lost in the semifinal final in 2011, meet South Bend St. Joseph Thursday at 5 p.m. at Baker Park in Mishawaka in the regional opener. The second semifinal pits No. 12 Elkhart Central versus Penn. The winners square off Saturday at 7 p.m. for the regional title and a spot in the aforementioned Warsaw Semistate field Oct. 20.
Warsaw sports a deceiving record of 9-8-2, due to the recent forfeits of seven contests. The Tigers, in the regional for the fifth straight year, have lost just once on the field in a 1-0 setback to Fort Wayne Carroll. Warsaw, which had to give up its NLC championship due to the forfeits for using an ineligible player due to a clerical error by the WCHS Athletic Department, tied Concord (1-1) and Goshen (0-0).
Bauer’s impressive team has been strong all fall, outscoring its opponents 57-8. The Tigers, who beat Culver Academies 3-1 in the Plymouth Sectional final Saturday, have allowed more than one goal just once all season.
“I believe we should be able to match up with St. Joe,” said Bauer. “They lost a close one to Concord and beat Goshen 3 to 2. They are a well-balanced side that will want to possess, be creative and carve out opportunities. I still think Elkhart Central will come through the other match. Their style is very different from St. Joe. They are frenetic and high pressure. They make a lot of substitutions to keep that pace and are extremely dangerous on set pieces.”
Warsaw beat Concord 2-1 (4-3 on PK’s) in the semifinals and Penn 1-0 in the title game to win the regional a year ago. The Tigers then lost 1-0 to Crown Point in the semi state to finish at 18-4-1 and graduated a pair of standouts in Jose Rodriguez (now playing at IPFW) and Corey Lopez (now playing at Indiana Wesleyan).
St. Joseph is a veteran team with 11 seniors and eight starters back from a year ago. The Indians are in the regional for the third straight year (they lost 2-0 to Penn in the semifinals in 2011) after crushing South Bend Washington 6-0 in the title match of their own sectional. St. Joe has allowed just 13 goals all season and have posted eight shutouts.
Bauer’s team has been led by the big right leg of senior star Diego Lopez. The fleet-footed forward and Division I prospect scored all three Tigers goals in the sectional finale Saturday and has 14 this season to tie teammate Nathan Kolbe for team-high honors despite missing five games. Warsaw has had trouble, at times, finishing scoring chances, but boasts a strong defense and a great keeper in senior Michael Yantz.
“It’s hard to say about the pressure,” said Bauer of being the defending regional champion. “On one hand, the experience is helpful as we have been in close matches and won a PK shoot out last year. At the same time, there is some pressure on us to live up to our ranking and continue our regional form and add a fifth in a row.”
“We will have to be much more efficient in front of net during regionals. I sense we at times think we can create a number of more opportunities so there is a dial down of urgency. That will have to change for regionals. We will need to play solid in the back against a creative St. Joe team and take our chances well. Against Elkhart Central, it will be how do we handle there pressure, their direct play, and their set pieces.”
Warsaw owns six regional titles, including its streak of four in a row. Central has won the regional five times with the last coming in 2007. St. Joseph and Penn each have four regional championships with the Indians last winning in 2003 and the Kingsmen in 2009.