Ryan Nichols’ early goal stood as the winner as Saline defeated Pioneer 1-0 in the district semifinal game at Skyline Wednesday.
Saline advances to the district final against Skyline at noon, Saturday, at Skyline High School.
The way the game started, it hardly like the fans in the stands were going to be treated to a defensive struggle.
A little more than two minutes into the game, Ryan Grill passed up the left wing to Brayden Stavros. He curled and passed in the middle of the box to Nichols, who took the pass with his back to the net, spun around and, between two defenders, kicked the ball past the goalie to give Saline the 1-0 lead.
It was Nichols fourth goal of the playoffs.
“Its huge. I expect nothing different. He’s an incredible soccer player and he’s in really good form,” coach Ryan Williams said. “He could have 15-20 goals, but he hasn’t quite been finishing. So to see him finishing is huge for us.”
After the hot start, Pioneer managed to tilt the field toward Saline.
The Hornets didn’t allow too many great opportunities, but goalie Quinn Fox was calm and collected when the Pioneers attacked. He made a leaping save on a free kick. His best save was a diving save on a low shot to his right.
“Quinn’s just a rock. He’s a brick wall in net. I thought we were on our heels a bit in the first half. Pioneer has some dangerous players who can strike the ball. Quinn’s positioning, once again, was exceptional. We didn’t feel to threatened with such a good keeper in net,” Williams said.
In the second half, Williams righted the ship, moving Mitch Kalitta to Central Defensive Midfielder.
“He possessed the ball and calmed us down which got us back into our game,” Williams said.
The Hornets didn’t score, but Nichols had two more great opportunities and Zeke Gray narrowly missed the net as the Hornets did a better job attacking from the middle of the field.
Late in the game, the Pioneers had a free kick from 25 yards. Again, Fox soaked up the bouncing shot and calmly played it out to his defense.
Coach Williams also praised the play of Brayden Stavros and Logan Dejanovich. Both players made key plays on both sides of the field.
Saline now faces Skyline. The Hornets defeated Skyline, 2-1, on Sept. 4. On Oct. 2, Saline defeated Skyline, 1-0. Williams knows it will be a tough task.
“But our guys, they know what’s at stake. I expect it to be an incredibly close, competitive game,” Williams said.