MISHAWAKA – Tito Cuellar’s relentless pursuit of a goal enabled Warsaw’s relentless pursuit of continued postseason soccer excellence to carry on Saturday night.
Cuellar proved to be in the right spot at the right time once again to make things all right for the Tigers in the end.
A rebound goal by Cuellar, a junior midfielder, with 12:12 to play lifted No. 9 Warsaw past No. 18 Northridge 1-0 in the finale of the Class 2-A Mishawaka Regional at Baker Park.
“I didn’t want to give up,” said Cuellar about his game winner. “We all knew we could do this. This game meant everything to us.”
Warsaw claims its sixth straight regional championship and earns at least one more match on the home pitch. The Tigers (14-2-5) face No. 4 Crown Point (18-0-1) next Saturday at noon in the second semifinal game of the Warsaw Semistate. The 10 a.m. opener pits Marion (16-3) versus Fort Wayne Canterbury (13-7-1).
The semi state title tilt is set for 7 p.m. next Saturday at WCHS with the winner advancing to the State Finals Nov. 2 at IUPUI in Indianapolis.
Cuellar has put together some kind of postseason performance. He now has seven goals in four state tournament wins. Cuellar scored in the second half, also off a rebound putback, on Thursday night to tie the match with South Bend St. Joseph.
“Tito is a scavenger, in a good way, and every team needs that,” said Warsaw coach Scott Bauer. “He’s working hard and in the right spot at the right time. Something motivates him. The game of soccer.”
Cuellar’s heroics, off an initial shot from point-blank range by Sam Allbritten that caromed off the leg of Northridge keeper Phillip Keller, enabled Warsaw to avenge a 1-0 regular-season loss to their Northern Lakes Conference counterparts. That setback on Oct. 3 in Middlebury was called with about nine minutes left to play due to lightning.
There was no lightning Saturday night, but plenty of thunder in a rough-and-tumble affair. The match featured physical play all night long with very few fouls called. The contest got heated late with about 11 minutes left as the center official red carded a Northridge assistant coach, who had spent most of the match screaming at him from the Raiders’ bench.
“He allowed the game to be played physical, just like he did in our match with St. Joe Thursday night,” noted Bauer. “It was more like a college match than a high school one. That did play to our benefit.”
Northridge coach Todd Woodworth, who received a yellow card shortly after his assistant was tossed from the match, thought that it was just too physical.
“It was not a total surprise because it was that way Thursday in their match with St. Joe,” said Woodworth of the physical nature of the game. “Warsaw knew a physical game was going to be allowed. I was surprised that it was allowed to get that physical for a regional championship game.”
Bauer, himself, admitted that he understood the viewpoint of the Raiders when it came to the lack of fouls called.
“I understand some of their issues,” said the veteran Warsaw coach. “I saw some of them, too, but that’s the center official’s style of officiating. I think they probably got the worst of it.”
The Raiders had a couple of chances late in the contest only to be turned away by Tiger keeper Peyton Long, the hero of Thursday night’s win over St. Joe in a penalty kick shootout.
“My hat’s off to Warsaw,” said Woodworth. “They wanted to win this. They were very composed. I don’t think you can discount the experience factor they have in the postseason having been to the Final Four the last three years. We did not generate much offense. We were on our heels a lot of the game tonight.”
Warsaw, the Class 2-A state runner-up in 2012, played a much more aggressive and sharper second half in the victory.
“I thought we played a very good second half,” Bauer said. “We were able to put a lot of sustained pressure on them. These guys have been here before and they know how to step up to the challenge. We’re not as deep as in years past, but we have guys who gut it out and 11 guys who play good together.”
The Raiders had posted a 9-0-2 mark in their last 11 contests, including the home win over Warsaw, before the season-ending setback Saturday night.
Warsaw had a 6-4 edge in shots on goal in the win. Long made four saves for the Tigers and Keller had five stops for the Raiders. Each team had three corner kicks.
Northridge, with started five seniors Saturday night, concludes its season at 14-4-3.