The Warsaw boys soccer team proved in the sectional just how much they did not want their season to end on the home turf.
Now, the Tigers aim for two more wins in the regional round of the state tournament series to earn at least one more home match.
The Class 2-A No. 9 Tigers shoot for a sixth straight regional championship starting Thursday night.
Warsaw, the state runner-up in 2012, faces South Bend St. Joseph (12-5) at about 7 p.m. Thursday at Baker Park in the Mishawaka Regional. The 5 p.m. opener pits Penn (11-4-4) versus No. 18 Northridge (13-3-3).
The semifinal winners will meet back at Baker Park Saturday at 7 p.m. to play for the regional championship and a spot in the Warsaw Semistate Oct. 26.
Warsaw, which sits at 12-2-5, showed its will to win in the sectional semifinals last Wednesday. The Tigers trailed Culver Academies 3-0 with just over 20 minutes to play before rallying for an incredible 4-3 win. Warsaw then plastered Plymouth 7-0 Saturday in the title match as Tito Cuellar netted four goals.
“They did not want their season to end,” said Warsaw coach Scott Bauer about what he learned about his team in sectional play. “It was quite an effort to come back and win that game versus the Academy.”
The field at Mishawaka is a familiar one. The Tigers beat St. Joe 1-0 in the semifinals a year ago, while Elkhart Central topped Penn 2-1. Warsaw then handled Central 4-1 in the championship match.
“We’re capable of winning it again and that’s how we have to feel going in that we are the favorites,” Bauer said. “St. Joe is a good team. But, I think we have the edge knowing we beat them last year. I also think it’s to our advantage that we have not played them this season.”
“We have to do good job Thursday night of shutting down St. Joe’s midfield play. It all just depends on how the ball bounces.”
Bauer, whose team has been to the State Finals each of the last three years, says a trust factor is a big key in the success of his program.
“I think we have an edge in that our kids have been with me for a long time and they have complete trust in our coaching staff in big situations in big matches,” said Bauer. “When we have to make adjustments, like in the Culver match, the kids buy into it. That’s been built over time.”
The Tigers, who lost top scorers Diego Lopez and Nate Kolbe from last year’s team, have done it with scoring by committee. The junior duo of Cuellar and Sam Allbritten, who had two huge goals including the game winner in the thrilling sectional semifinal win, have been key. Warsaw has nine seniors, led by the likes of Stephen Kolbe, Matt Williams and Zach Tucker.
Warsaw is very familiar with the other side of the regional bracket. The Tigers tied Penn 2-2 early in the season in a match stopped in the second half and called due to lightning in the area. Warsaw lost 1-0 at Northern Lakes Conference foe Northridge late in the season in a game also called late due to weather. The Tigers’ other loss was a 2-0 final to NLC champion Goshen.
St. Joe beat Michigan City 3-0 to win its own sectional title Saturday. The Indians, who are led by Tommy Clark, have won four sectionals in a row.
Penn blanked host South Bend Adams 4-0 to claim its’ third straight sectional crown. Northridge outlasted host Concord 1-0 (winning on penalty kicks) Saturday to win its’ first sectional title since 2010.
Warsaw has won a total of seven regional titles, including their current run of five in a row. Northridge last won a regional title in 2010, Penn in 2009 and St. Joe in 2003.