By Garth Shanklin
For the second consecutive season, the Bethel-Tate Tigers boys’ soccer team is in striking distance of a league championship.
As a matter of fact, they may already have it.
Entering their Tuesday, Oct. 4 contest against Blanchester, the team needed one win in their final two games to clinch their second consecutive Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference championship.
Heading into play earlier this week, the team was 8-0 in the league and 12-2 overall, with both losses coming to non-league opponents last month. The team dropped a 2-0 weather-shortened decision to Clark Montessori on Sept. 10, then lost a 2-1 road contest at Batavia on Sept. 20.
Head coach Dave Schellenberger said he didn’t expect the team to perform at the level they currently are, though he did believe they would be competing for a league title.
“I thought we’d be, maybe, over .500 but I really thought we’d be second or third at this stage,” Schellenberger said. “This is really nice. 8-0 was not expected.”
The team finds themselves in this position thanks to excellent offensive play. Jake Clift sits ninth in the city in total points as of 2 p.m. on Oct. 4 with 44, while teammate and fellow senior Zack Boston has tallied 32. Schellenberger said the team mixes things up on offense to prevent teams from keying in on a specific set of players.
“We’ve been mixing the ball up a bit with different people,” Schellenberger said. “If they knock it around and they use people, then we’re a little bit more successful. If we try to rely on one or two people, we struggle. They can knock the ball around and take advantage of all 11 guys on the field.”
The team is young defensively, starting three freshman and a sophomore in the back in front of goalkeeeper Tyler Baker. Baker won the job in the offseason, and his performance so far in the regular season has allowed him to keep control of it.
“He just kept plugging along,” Schellenberger said. “We gave him an opportunity and he never quit going. After the first 10 games, he pretty much sealed his spot. We do play Sam Frondorf a little bit in the second half, but Tyler has pretty much individually won that spot. We can’t take it away from a kid who is 12-2.”
The youth defensively has served the team well, as they have allowed a total of 10 goals in their 14 matches. Schellenberger said the team’s youth has him excited for the future.
“We’re very young, as far as the defensive players,” Schellenberger said. “We’re very young. My two solid seniors are the two center midfielders in Boston and Trenton Weeks. For the most part, we’re playing with a really, really young squad of boys and that’s encouraging for the future also.”
Schellenberger said the team needs to continue to play unselfishly and look for the best option as opposed to trying to make the plays by themselves, especially in the tough matchups against Blanchester and Williamsburg.
“We have to make sure that everybody uses everybody,” Schellenberger said. “If we move the ball and use all 11 players on the field, we’ll be more successful than dribbling and worrying about our own individual guys. If we do what we’ve been doing from day one, we’ll be OK.”
After the two matches this week, the team has time to prepare for their next contest. They don’t return to the field of play until the start of the sectional tournament, which begins as early as Oct. 17. The sectional tournament draw is Sunday, Oct. 9 at 2 p.m.
Schellenberger said the team plans to use that time to recover from any injuries the players may have and to better prepare for the upcoming postseason run.
“We’ll heal up,” Schellenberger said. “We had that situation this year where we had a whole week off and we didn’t play from Tuesday to Tuesday. So it gives us an opportunity to heal up. Knock on wood, we’ve been really healthy as a result. I’m hoping that we get some good practice time in.”
The Tigers’ final home game of the season against Williamsburg is on Thursday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m.