The Tigers were rewarded richly with another regional championship Saturday night too.
Seniors Diego Lopez and Nate Kolbe each tallied a pair of goals as the Class 2-A No. 2 Tigers sidelined No. 12 Elkhart Central 4-1 in the title tilt of the Mishawaka Regional at Ward Baker Park.
Warsaw, now 18-1-2 on the field, earns a trip back home for semi state. The Tigers play No. 14 DeKalb (18-2) in the second semifinal of the Warsaw Semistate next Saturday at noon. DeKalb defeated Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger 2-1 Saturday night to win the Fort Wayne Carroll Regional.
The 10 a.m. Warsaw Semistate opener pits No. 7 Valparaiso (18-2) versus Hamilton Southeastern (11-7-3). The semi state semifinal winners square off at 7 p.m. Saturday at WCHS with a spot in the Class 2-A state championship game on the line. That contest will be played Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. on the IUPUI campus in Indianapolis.
Warsaw has now won seven regional championships, including an impressive run of five straight for coach Scott Bauer. That string of five in a row is the best active streak in the state.
“This one is the most special,” said Bauer after seeing his team dominate the Blue Blazers on a rainy and windy night. “With everything that has happened this year, this one is huge for us.”
The Tigers have hurdled several obstacles this fall, the latest being forced to forfeit six wins and a draw due to a clerical error that allowed a transfer to play a reserve role while he was not eligible, thus making their official record 12-8-1. The forfeits, which were made public just before the start of sectional play, cost the Tigers the conference championship. Bauer also did not coach the team the first eight games of the season due to a suspension and Lopez missed the first four games as he was out due to a suspension.
“This team needed to find its identity and winning a regional tonight states that,” said Bauer. “I was optimistic we could do this the whole time. I knew we had the pieces to do it.”
Warsaw got two first-half goals from Lopez to lead 2-0 at intermission. The standout forward, one of nine seniors for the Tigers, scored first at in the 10th minute as he drew the Central keeper out (who collided with several players from both teams) and easily chipped the ball into the empty net. Lopez made it 2-0 on a penalty kick in the 29th minute.
“Diego is just exceptional on the ball,” Bauer said of his Division I calibre player. “I haven’t seen anyone like him in that regard in high school.”
Kolbe took care of the scoring in the second half for the Tigers. The senior, who had the winning goal in a 1-0 semifinal victory over South Bend St. Joe in the regional semifinal match Thursday, scored his first in the 54th minute when he made a tremendous move from midfield and then used his blazing speed and some great dribbling to work around the Central keeper for a score from point-blank range. Kolbe then made it 4-0 in the 66th minute after taking a long feed from teammate Matt Williams.
Central, which finishes at 16-3-1, avoided the shutout on a goal by Elliott Miller in the 68th minute.
The Tigers had a couple of other great scoring chances just miss as they reigned again in the rain. A Warsaw shot in the opening half hit the crossbar and another was deflected off the post on a fine save by Central keeper Derek Mills.
Bauer was pleased with the work of his squad in a game that saw torrential rain at times throughout the first half and again the final five minutes of a contest that saw it get a little chippy on the field.
“We wanted to come out strong and put them under pressure,” said Bauer of the game plan. “We had been here and they hadn’t, so we thought they may be a little nervous to start. I saw us putting in three goals tonight. We thought we could take advantage of their aggressiveness and counter with them well. Nathan just cracked their back with that fourth goal.”
Kolbe said things fell into place for him on this night.
“They definitely fell in place for me,” said Kolbe of netting two goals. “I was able to capitalize and it was amazing. This is very important and significant for us to continue the legacy of winning regionals. It’s kind of surreal.
“This was a harder regional to win than in the past. I think all of us are a little surprised to score four goals tonight. But, we played our best and got four. When we play our game, we can beat people. It means a lot to be going home to play semi state. We have to continue the momentum next Saturday.”
Warsaw had nine shots on goal to six for Central. Senior Michael Yantz had five saves in the net for the Tigers and Mills had four for the Blue Blazers. Central had a 6-2 edge in corner kicks.
Central, under first-year coach Sherwin Simon, loses seven senior starters. The Blue Blazers won the NIC title and a sectional championship after going just 8-8-1 a year ago.
Warsaw has now outscored its opponents 62-9 this season.