BY PEDRO VELAZCO
For the Pharos-Tribune
Kokomo — Early on Wednesday night, Western’s boys soccer team figured out it could play with Logansport and threaten to win not just the game, but the sectional.
Late Wednesday night, Logansport figured out how to win.
The Berries scored the winning goal just 4:07 from the end of regulation to take a 2-1 victory in the opening round of the Class 2A Kokomo Sectional.
The Panthers struck first, in the game’s 16th minute, and held a 1-0 advantage at halftime. Western’s goal came from Chris Root, who poked home a loose ball from six yards out after Logan goalie Connor Kinnaman gave up a rebound on a 40-yard-plus free kick by Zac Simpson.
In the second half, the Berries got a grip on the action. Logan scored just 45 seconds after halftime when Jose Tavares sent a low cross to an open Pedro Hernandez for a one-time strike at the back post.
“The big thing in the first half was the nerves, knowing we could give up a goal, which we did, and then we weren’t possessing the ball and guys were stabbing [at the ball]. They were afraid they were going to give up another one,” Logan coach Mike Turner said.
Western had more of the ball and the bulk of the dangerous chances in the first half. The Panthers forced Kinnaman into nine saves in the first half, compared to just three for Western goalie Edgar Sanchez, but Logan got more of the ball in the second half.
“We allowed them to get a lot more first touches on the ball,” Western coach Mike Roe said of the second half. “We were a little deeper than we should have been, and allowed them to build up some touches and [get] turns without getting any pressure on them right away.”
The Berries (7-10) hit the woodwork twice on long-range efforts in the second half before scoring. A short drop pass set up Tavares deep in the box but his shot crashed against the crossbar and out in the 68th minute. Then a long, speculative ball by Heath Vincent found the right upright just two minutes before the Berries scored their winner.
Logan finally grabbed the lead in the 76th minute. With the Berries possessing the ball in the Western defensive third, Ramon DeLatorre crossed to Tavares, who controlled the ball, then stabbed it home from inside the box.
Western (11-4-1) still had chances in the second half, but not nearly as many. Kinnaman made two saves in the second half. Sanchez only had one as the action evened out in the final 40 minutes.
“It was a mental adjustment, get back to possessing the ball, no more mistakes from the goalkeeper, finish — we finished in the first 45 seconds — and start possessing,” Turner said. “Possession is the difference. Once we started possessing the ball it started creating opportunities for us, and it took opportunities away from them, plus it gives us more confidence. We had to give up a goal to get rid of the nerves and then make the mental adjustment to play the way we can play.
“I’m glad we gave it up in the first half, because if we gave it up in the second half, it would have been a different story.”
Kinnaman had a much lighter workload in the second half, thanks to improved play on defense from the backline and midfield.
“[Logan’s defenders] were a little more aggressive winning the ball and mids [were] making defensive runs,” Turner said. “In the first half, I thought they were trailing because their possession was better than ours. Second half, I thought the mid defending was better and it took away some of their possession, and it helped our defense make plays on the ball.”
Logansport faces North Central Conference rival Marion at 7 p.m. Saturday for the championship. The Giants beat the Berries 2-1 in the regular season. Marion beat Kokomo 6-1 in Wednesday’s first semifinal.
Turner was glad to see the Berries rebound after losing their last two games in the regular season.
“We had to get rid of those nerves from those last two losses,” he said. “I think [the Berries] will be focused and ready to go on Saturday.
“Key on Saturday is we’ve got to attack a little with the dribble. I noticed Kokomo, they were getting success attacking Marion with the dribble. We’re going to work on attacking dribble for the next two days because it’s there.”