No one more so than Nathan Kolbe, whose heads-up play provided the winner for the Class 2-A No. 2 Tigers.
Kolbe’s header goal in the first half was all Warsaw needed on this night to post a 1-0 victory over South Bend St. Joseph in the opening semifinal match of the Class 2-A Mishawaka Regional at Ward Baker Park.
The Tigers will look to make it five straight regional championships Saturday at 7 p.m. Warsaw, 17-1-2 on the field, but officially now 11-8-1, faces No. 12 Elkhart Central (16-2-1). The winner moves on to the Warsaw Semistate Oct. 20.
Central defeated Penn 2-1 in the second semifinal contest Thursday night. The Blue Blazers got second-half goals from seniors Elliott Miller and Isaias Morales to notch the win. Morales delivered the game winner in the 78th minute.
Kolbe, one of nine seniors for the Tigers, took a great cross from Grant Allbritten with 11:36 left in the opening half and calmly headed it past the St. Joe keeper for the lone tally in the breezy conditions.
“I saw Grant outside and that there was a cross waiting to happen,” said Kolbe of his game winner in the 29th minute. “He peeked up and saw me and I snuck in there. Once he turned to hit it, I was keyed in on it.”The Tigers smart, efficient and composed and controlled the somewhat limited offensive opportunities at both ends to dominate the game. St. Joe did not manage a legitimate scoring chance the entire contest and the only two attempts on goal even offered up were quickly and easily handled by Tiger senior standout keeper Michael Yantz. The Indians, who finish at 13-4-2, did have one flurry in front of the goal with about four minutes to play that was denied by the stingy Tiger defense.
Kolbe says it helps his team to have so many players with postseason experience and success in the state tournament.
“Our experience helps a lot,” said Kolbe. “I think it definitely helps a lot that our seniors have been in these situations before with a close game and the pressure of it. I was kind of in between tonight when we took the lead. I was comfortable, but I knew they were a good team and still had an opportunity to come back.”
Warsaw has now outscored its foes 58-8 this season. St. Joe, in the regional for the third straight year, gave us just its 14th goal of the season in the loss. The Indians roster featured 11 seniors.
“I was proud of my guys,” said Warsaw coach Scott Bauer. “I thought they played well and I thought they were focused. Once we got that first goal, I thought that unless we made a mistake that St. Joe was not going to break us down and score.
“I told them at halftime to close down the midfield, especially No. 5 for St. Joe. And to hold on that that goal lead and we’re going back to the regional final.”Warsaw, which beat Penn 1-0 in last year’s regional final, had a couple of decent scoring chances in the second half Thursday night. Senior star Diego Lopez let loose with a couple of long-range blasts, but sailed them plenty high over the goal for the Tigers.
“Our goal was a great header by Kolbe,” Bauer said. “It’s probably a good thing that the cross was going in with the wind at the time for us.”
Warsaw had a 6-2 edge in shots on goal in the victory and a 6-2 advantage in corner kicks. Senior Yantz had two saves for the Tigers. Johnathan Brenner came up with five saves for the Indians.
Bauer knows facing Elkhart Central Saturday night will present his team with a very different type of foe to contend with than the deliberate, possession-minded Indians.
“It will be a different style in that Central is high pressure,” said Bauer, who was going to stay with his team to watch some of the Central-Penn contest Thursday night. “It will be another challenge for us Saturday. I just hope our guys rise to it again.”
Kolbe knows his team is getting closer to its goal. The Tigers lost 1-0 to Crown Point in the semi state final a year ago after winning the program’s first semi state championship in 2010.
“Our main goal is to get to State,” said Kolbe. “With semi state being at home, that gives us all the more desire to win. It’s going to take a commitment from our entire team. Everyone has to be focused and working together.
“I’m very hopeful about our chances. I have a scared feeling about the season ending. I’m just hoping we go farther than before.”