ARGOS — It took host Argos a little while to get rolling in its Sectional 36 opener Monday night, but once the Class A No. 18 Dragons got going, they really poured it on in a hurry.
Argos slotted away three goals within a roughly five-minute span late in the second half to rally past Lakeland Christian Academy, then held off a late surge by the Cougars for a 3-2 victory at the tourney-opener in Argos. The Dragons, seeking their eight straight sectional title, now advance to play North Miami in Wednesday’s early semifinal.
“The first 25 minutes we started pretty strong. I think they scored by our count three goals maybe within five or six minutes. We had a letdown; they took advantage like good teams do,” said Lakeland coach Dan Miller.
“We have had a habit this year of starting off slow, of knowing what we have to do and not doing it and keeping teams in it. I give a lot of credit to Lakeland tonight because they never gave up, and they came out fighting out of the gate,” said Argos coach Todd VanDerWeele, who celebrated his 150th win at Argos with Monday’s victory.
Lakeland took it to the seven-time defending champion Dragons early and got on the board when Theran McKeever stole a ball at midfield early in the 11th minute and found junior attacking mid Parker Stewart, who drove a low shot into the far corner to stake the Cougars to an initial 1-0 lead.
But the Dragons began to pour on the pressure soon after, with three goals over five minutes as part of a 10-shots-on-frame first half. Lukas VanDerWeele found Mike Richard from in close in the 32nd minute, and Richard finished off the equalizer with a hard shot through the hands of Lakeland keeper Remington Swanson. The Dragons scored the go-ahead just two minutes later when VanDerWeele switched fields to Cameron Markley, who in turn switched back to Ian Kindig, who used his 6’5” height to good effect with a header in traffic in the 34th minute.
“Lakeland floods the zone. They flood one side of the field that you’re on so I told the guys we’ve got to go side to side,” explained Todd VanDerWeele of the go-ahead. “We didn’t do that at first. I introduced Markley back in, and Markley and Coleman Norris, when they went back in, started doing that a little bit more. And that goal started on the right side, came all the way over to Cameron on the left, and he played it right back in. With Kindig and his 6’5” frame, they man-marked him, and the kid had no chance on him. It was a beautiful head ball, and he slotted it home as you hope and expect that one of your captains would.”
A little more than three minutes after that, Chino Roque finally broke through up the left side after putting pressure on the defense for much of the half, sending a long, low drive into the far corner to give his team a 3-1 cushion in the 37th minute.
Playing in their third game in five days — including a 4-3 barnburner for the Northern Indiana Soccer Conference championship Saturday night — and leading by two goals, the Dragons subbed heavily late in the game. Stewart struck again for Lakeland on a free kick from around 30 yards out that rocketed over the wall and under the crossbar to bring the Cougars to within a goal in the 71st minute.
“The last three matches we’ve had with them they’ve been a thorn in our side. They just come at us. They find a weak spot, and they hammer us,” said VanDerWeele. “Last year in the sectional they had us on the ropes. This year in the regular season it was a dogfight; they got in front of us again. And they did the same thing tonight. They’re a good side.”
“Parker is an incredible player,” said Miller. “He’s our leading scorer. He just has a lot of ability. He can strike a ball so well. You could tell he was in the mood to score goals tonight, and he did a great job of really pressing their back line back. He’s just got a lot of technical ability on the ball, and, yeah, he can strike the ball really well.”
The Cougars never scored again, however, and Argos advanced to defend its championship streak opposite North Miami Wednesday. The hosts’ possession game yielded 12 corner kicks to two by the challengers. Swanson finished the night with 13 saves in goal for LCA as Argos leveled 16 shots on goal versus seven by the Cougars.
“He’s someone who all throughout the season we’ve been on him to get better and better, and man, he really shown tonight. He had a couple incredible saves there in the second half to keep us in it,” said Miller of his senior keeper. “Remington Swanson has been a rock for us back there this year.”
Argos improves to 10-3-4 on the year, while LCA closes at 10-6-1. The Cougars will have to bid goodbye to a deep cast of eight seniors with the closer.
“Eight seniors, it’ll be tough to see those guys go. A lot of good soccer players in that group,” Miller said. “Overall we finish 10-6-1. We did get 10 wins, which hasn’t been done in awhile at Lakeland. A lot of it is the seniors. Parker is a junior so he’ll be back, but we’re going to miss a lot of seniors, and that class has meant a lot to Lakeland, meant a lot to me in my first year back at Lakeland coaching. They’ve really shown good leadership throughout the year.”