by Beau Wicker
— Argos’ impressive display of offense in the first half was too much for Carroll’s boys soccer team to overcome Thursday in a Class A Caston Regional semifinal match.
The No. 16-ranked Dragons scored four first-half goals and held on for a 4-2 victory. They improved to 18-1-1 on the season and will face Oak Hill (15-2-1), which defeated Peru 3-0 Thursday, at 4 p.m. Saturday in the regional final. Carroll finishes 13-7.
“Defensively, we played solid in the sectional, and the first 40 minutes [Thursday] we did not,” Carroll coach Dave Falkenberg lamented. “We stuck out a lot of legs as opposed to playing solid D. However, No. 10 [Damon Binkley] was probably the best player we’ve seen this year.”
Binkley led the first-half onslaught, recording three goals and an assist during a 23-minute time span. When the damage was done, the Dragons had a 4-1 lead with 10:54 left in the half and the Cougars had to play catch-up the rest of the game.
Binkley now has 36 goals on the season.
Carroll junior Justin Willoughby scored two goals to keep the Cougars in the contest. His first one was on a direct kick in which he bent it past the keeper to make it a 1-1 game in the 12th minute. He added a goal with 9:19 left in the game following a ricochet off a corner kick.
Willoughby finished with 16 goals on the season.
“I haven’t seen a whole lot of D-I, other than on TV, I’ve seen a few in person. He’s got D-I skills and smarts,” Falkenberg said. “The one question mark will end up being speed and height, unfortunately, but I would take him over any other center-mid I’ve played all year.”
The Cougars looked particularly impressive on set pieces — throw-ins, corner kicks and direct kicks — but didn’t finish enough of them.
“We left chances on the field,” Falkenberg said. “We had a chance in the first minute and a half on a throw-in that dropped inside the 6 and we didn’t get a foot on it. We had at least two more times it dropped inside the 6 to 10 on a throw-in or corner that we didn’t get anything on.
“We struggled all year with finishing. Unfortunately we just could not finish the ball.”
Argos’ only loss this season was in its first match of the year against Goshen. Fifth-year Argos coach Todd VanDerWeele talked about his school’s tradition in soccer.
“We don’t have football, have never had football. This is the 50th season we’ve had soccer,” he said. “Going to class has obviously given us a few more opportunities to advance in the tournament, before we always had to play Warsaw in the tournament. The kids start playing when they’re 4 and 5 years old and a lot of them play 12, 13 years up through high school.”
VanDerWeele was impressed with Carroll.
“Carroll took advantage of a lot of mistakes we made and put a lot of pressure on us. They didn’t give up and I was worried until the end,” he said. “They do a lot of things well. They move the ball, try to move the ball fast down the field. They’re a disciplined team and they stick to their game plan well.”
Carroll tied the school record for wins in a season, won its fifth straight Hoosier Heartland Conference title and first-ever sectional title this season. The Cougars will lose seven seniors to graduation but the future of the program remains bright.
“I had said last year our sophomore group last year, juniors this year, were the core of our team,” Falkenberg said.
Falkenberg looked like The Lone Ranger minus a mask on the sidelines, but his cowboy hat didn’t bring him the luck he was looking for.
“That was a lost bet,” he said. “A couple of my defenders had made a bet with me about a month ago that if we won sectionals, ‘Coach, you’ve got to dress as a cowboy.’ And I’ve got no problem living up a bet. I’m glad to do it winning sectionals and I don’t think it would have mattered [Thursday] night, cowboy hat or not.”