MISHAWAKA – Baker Park turned into “Peyton’s” Place for sure Thursday night.
At least in the eyes of the Warsaw boys soccer faithful.
Warsaw goalie Peyton Long with one diving stab to his right made everything all right for the Tigers in a regional semifinal thriller.
Long stopped South Bend St. Joseph’s second kick in the penalty kick shootout to lift Class 2-A No. 9 Warsaw to a 2-1 win over the Indians.
Warsaw, which is bidding for its sixth straight regional title, will meet No. 18 Northridge Saturday at 7 p.m. back at Baker Park in the championship match. The winner earns a spot in the Warsaw Semistate Oct. 26.
Warsaw will take a 13-2-5 mark into the regional finale, while the Raiders are 14-3-3.
The Tigers, who trailed 1-0 Thursday night, won the match when senior Stephen Kolbe drilled his penalty kick into the back of the net on the final shot of the shootout, giving Warsaw a 5-4 edge in the deciding shootout phase of the match.
“It feels great,” said Long of his heroic stop on a pk by Josh Kachmarik. “We’ve been practicing pk’s every day after practice and it paid off. My coach (Adam Churchill) has done a lot for me.
“I knew I just had to stay confident and all I needed to do was stop one shot. My shooters give my confidence. I have faith in them. This was a great team effort. It shows we have heart and never give up.”
Warsaw, the Class 2-A state runner-up in 2012, connected on all five of its’ shots in the deciding pk session after a pair of scoreless, seven-minute overtime periods.
The Tigers got great, clutch kicks from junior Tito Cuellar, junior Sam Allbritten, junior Manuel Rodriguez, senior Miguel Rivera and the clincher from the big right foot of senior Kolbe for the win.
“We’ve worked very hard on pk’s,” said Warsaw coach Scott Bauer. “We’ve been bad pk kickers this season and that cost us some wins. We knew we had a lot of work to do on that.
“We grade the guys on pk’s in practice and those five are my top percentage ones. That’s why they were taking them tonight. When Peyton stopped that one, I felt that we had a high probability to win with our experience and the work we’ve put into the pk’s.”
Long, a junior, is continuing the long tradition of great keepers in the Warsaw program.
“He made a great save,” Bauer said of Long. “He had a great keeper to learn from last year in Michael Yantz. My goalie coach (Adam Churchill) does a wonderful job for us. He was one of my best keepers here at Warsaw when he played. He’s very technical and knows his stuff.”
Churchill, a 2005 WCHS grad, was a three-year starter in goal for Bauer’s Tigers.
Warsaw, which beat St. Joe 1-0 in a regional semifinal a year ago, trailed 1-0 when Kachmarik scored with 33:30 to play in the final half on an assist from senior Tommy Clark.
The Tigers, after a listless and scoreless first half, picked up the pace of play in the second stanza. Warsaw drew even with 27:25 left in regulation play when Cuellar put home a rebound goal after St. Joe keeper Dominic Bessignano was unable to secure a blast by senior Zach Tucker.
Warsaw did a fine job of containing midfielder Clark, the MVP of the Northern Indiana Conference this fall, with plenty of physical play and attention to his whereabouts.
“I thought in the second half we picked it up,” Bauer said. “Clark did not get a lot of open looks. We really didn’t do anything different on him. We just knew when he had the ball and corralled him.”
St. Joe, making its’ fourth straight regional appearance, finishes 12-6.
Northridge won the opening semifinal Thursday night with a 3-1 victory over Penn. The Raiders, who beat the Kingsmen 2-0 during the regular season, were led by Hunter Hardin. The junior forward scored a pair of goals in the final 6:55 to snap a 1-1 tie. Hardin, who missed five games in September due to a stress fracture in his foot, also assisted on his team’s first score that made it 1-0 in the opening half.
The Raiders, who are 9-0-1 in their last 10 matches, beat Warsaw 1-0 in a Northern Lakes Conference match in Middlebury Oct. 3 in a contest called with about nine minutes left in it due to lightning.
“We can’t relax and have to keep driving forward and that will be my message to the boys on Friday at practice,” said Bauer. “Northridge is very well coached and very motivated. They have great senior leadership.”