PLYMOUTH — Chris Pena was in third grade the last time the Wawasee boys soccer team had won a postseason contest. The 1-0 decision over Goshen came in a sectional semifinal match on October 7, 2010 when the state tournament was still single-class. Wednesday evening Pena scored in the final minute of the team’s semifinal contest against NorthWood to help the Warriors advance 2-1 over the Panthers and into the championship game of the Class 2-A Sectional Tournament at Plymouth.
“The ball got past me on that corner, I beat the defender on the turn and, as soon as I got that touch, I knew I was going to score,” an excited, exhausted but surprisingly calm Pena explained.
The freshman was left without many chances in Wednesday’s game despite the Warriors 6-3 advantage over NorthWood in shots on goal. Pena just needed one opportunity, one chance and he knew he could make all the difference. Just as he explained, the freshman took his one chance and did not let it go to waste.
Pena created the scoring opportunity for himself after finding a lane on the nearside of Kindt Field. He was so ecstatic after hitting the seam that an audible, “Woo!” could be heard as he sliced through the defense and found the back of the net with just 32 seconds remaining. Pena received a yellow card shortly after a celebration that involved him removing his jersey and being buried in a dogpile by his teammates.
While the celebration was certainly excessive, Pena was completely relaxed after the game.
“I’ve had big moments like this before playing in travel state tournaments,” said Pena. “It really just felt like another game for me but that was by far one of the greatest moments I’ve had on a soccer field. Coach Sharp had never won a sectional game and I wanted to help him get that notch on his belt.”
Jordan Sharp, now in his fourth season of being Wawasee’s head coach, was relieved for his team to break the ugly postseason losing streak and get a nice foundation of confidence.
“It’s really huge,” Sharp said of the victory. “It’s great for the guys to see that they can win. Most of that game was frustrating, but we got the win in the end. It’s exciting for them to see that hard work does when you continue to do the right things. We came back from a deficit, which we’ve not done a lot this season. I’m super pumped for the guys. This is huge for the program and for these guys to see that, yes, there is hope and yes, there is an opportunity to go further.”
When it came to Pena, Sharp had no doubt his freshman could make the play if given the chance.
“He lives for moments like that,” Sharp said of Pena. “That’s why I love him. That’s what I want him to pass along to everyone else in this program. I was excited to see him do that. It was great to see Carter Jones step up and put a PK away. It was just our night.”
Jones gave Wawasee its first goal of the game in the 36th minute on a PK following a push in the box. The goal tied things up 1-1. NorthWood scored very early on with a PK of its own by Eli Auckerman in the second minute.
Wawasee (5-10-2) advances to play Plymouth (13-3) in Saturday night’s title tilt. Plymouth defeated Culver Academy 3-1 in the evening’s second semifinal and beat Wawasee 5-0 last Thursday.
“Four our guys, this is huge for them,” Sharp explained. “They already feel like this season has been a success. Our goal now is seeing how far we can take this journey. I’d love to see how far we can go.”
Saturday’s game is slated for a 6 p.m. start.