WARRENSBURG - If the No. 1-seeded Warrensburg-Latham boys soccer team is getting nervous about its likely regional final game on Oct. 15 against St. Teresa, it's not showing.
But the Bulldogs are giving the Cardinals plenty of reason to worry. After Warrensburg edged St. Teresa 1-0 on Sept. 22 in the Okaw Valley Conference Tournament semifinals, the teams played to a 2-2 tie on Thursday to finish off conference play for both teams.
"Overall, I thought we played pretty well - we just need to learn from what we did wrong," Warrensburg senior Austin Cearlock said. "We feel relieved that we got down 2-0 and came back to tie. We would like to have gotten the win, but we'll take a tie. We still feel confident."
From the beginning of the season, Warrensburg (15-1-1, 4-0-1 Okaw Valley) - the conference champion - has expected big things. St. Teresa (8-6-2) hasn't been at the same level, except when the teams have played.
"They've discovered something that's worked for them," Warrensburg coach Kevin Emery said. "It seems like their game plan is to prevent us from scoring and counter off restart plays. They were able to get two in early, then pack it in on defense."
St. Teresa took the lead with 23:04 left in the first half when Patrick Kuhle knocked in an Aaron Michel throw-in to take a 1-0 lead - stunning the large crowd of Warrensburg and Maroa-Forsyth fans (the schools co-op for soccer). Seven minutes later, Jordan Bolletta found the goal on a corner kick to put the Bulldogs up 2-0.
"Getting up on them early is the best thing that could have happened for us," St. Teresa coach Leo Berger said. "As Warrensburg goes on in the game, they get stronger and stronger as it progresses. We found that out the last time we played them."
Warrensburg reacted quickly after Bolletta's score, showing how easily it can put goals on the scoreboard when its offense is clicking. Right after the ball was dropped at midfield, Aaron Shore found Cody Drew with a pass and Drew knocked it in.
"That was a perfect kick (by Drew)," Berger said. "There isn't a goalie in the world that could have stopped that sucker."
The second half belonged to Warrensburg, but the Cardinals had trouble finishing at the goal - though a big part of that was the play of St. Teresa keeper Adam Peters. Finally, though, with 12:46 left, Cearlock collected a rebound off a shot that Bryce Hawthorne knocked off the crossbar and put it past Peters to tie the game.
Warrensburg dominated the rest of the game, but couldn't punch another one past Peters.
"They committed a larger group defensively in the second half," Emery said. "We still had our opportunities, but we couldn't finish like we should have been able to. (Peters) is a good keeper. He's not going to let anything get past him unless you earn it."
Play of the game
Kuhle credited Michel's ability to launch the ball on throw-ins for the Bulldogs' first goal. Warrensburg had a slight miscommunication on who would go for the ball and Michel - a flame-thrower on the mound in baseball - fired it past Warrensburg's players and it went right to Kuhle all alone in front of the goal.
"Our keeper (Keith Owens) called for the ball and went out to collect, and our players are taught if the keeper says something, defer to the keeper," Emery said. "If the keeper doesn't get it in that case, what do you do?"
What it means
If St. Teresa didn't have Warrensburg's attention before the game, it does now. Kuhle said the Bulldogs have a different intensity when they play Warrensburg, and it shows. The Cardinals will have to match that intensity in the regional final.
Stat of the game
Warrensburg had 20 shots, compared to five for St. Teresa, and the Bulldogs didn't attempt a shot in the second half.
"I don't want to take anything away from Decatur Christian (St. Teresa's first-round regional opponent), but like Kevin said to me, ‘We'll see you Saturday.' " - Berger.