Tigers move past Patriots for 16th straight title

Photos by Sam Owens/Special to The Herald
Memorial's Garland Hall attempts to get the ball past Heritage Hills' goalkeeper Sam Scott during the IHSAA Class 2A sectional championship at Traylor Family Stadium in Evansville on Saturday. The Tigers defeated the Patriots, 4-1.

Special to The Herald

EVANSVILLE – Isaac Bennett never really expected the shot to find its target. He at least had to try, though.

The scoreboard read 1-0, Memorial, just before halftime in the Class 2A boys' soccer sectional title game against Heritage Hills. But a second goal would be paramount. The style of the game changes with a two-goal differential.

That’s when Bennett received a through ball on the left wing about 40 yards out. He also knew the clock was under 10 seconds. So, he shot the ball towards the net.

“I thought let’s go for it,” said the Memorial High School junior. “See what I can do.”

The ball soared into the air, over the hands of the keeper and into the net for a beautiful goal. It was that kind of day for Memorial, who defeated the Patriots 4-1 on Saturday at Traylor Family Stadium to win the sectional championship.

It marks the 16th straight title for the Tigers. That is a state record, breaking a tie held with Lake Central (2003-17) and Munster (2002-16).

Memorial coach Bill Vieth always takes each sectional separately. This is a new team with players in different positions. Some may have never played varsity soccer. It's also never fair to compare teams from different eras. But that kind of consistency is unparalleled.

“We’ve done it with different kids and different teams,” said Vieth. “It’s important to (the players) to keep that going. I'm most proud of that consistency. Overall, we’re happy because we advanced. We scored goals and wanted to win this game and be convincing.”

In between the opening and final horn, the Tigers (13-3-2) offered both why they can make a title run and why there is still work to be done.

Start with the good. The offense controlled possession for most of the afternoon. Max Brasseale put Memorial on the board just seven minutes in, finishing a corner kick from Bennett. Even the rest of the half, the Tigers had several more chances.

Memorial finally capitalized on Bennett’s shot from 40 yards deep. A second goal made any comeback attempt from Heritage Hills much tougher.

“I think the second and third goal are the most important,” said Bennett. “You go up 2-0 and the other team has to score three goals to beat you now. It puts the other team down and their heads are down.”

The Tigers kept attacking in the second half and finally buried the Patriots (14-2-3) with a pair of scores near the midway point. Sophomore Isaac Robertson poked one past the keeper before Bennett hammered a ball into the net from just outside the 18 a couple of minutes later.

Bennett leads Memorial in both goals (13) and assists (14) heading into the regional next weekend.

“He is really strong with the ball,” said Vieth. “When you give it to him, you’re confident it’s going to stay within your team. It’s good to see him when he’s on like that.”

It’s the rest of the match that Vieth wasn’t pleased with. Memorial didn’t finish strong and had some moments where it reverted into “bad habits”. No. 11 Heritage Hills got on the board with under two minutes remaining with a shot from Jose Lara.

The Tigers understand that can’t happen once the talent level in their opponents continue to rise. That will be the case at the Heritage Hills Regional. 

No. 2 Memorial faces No. 4 Washington in the second semifinal. The same team that knocked out the Tigers in the regional championship last October.

“It’s going to take a really good game,” said Vieth. “We’ll have to fire on all cylinders and play all 80 minutes. That’s an area for us to work on this week.”

Heritage Hills coach Joe Asbury was dismissed early in the second half after receiving his second yellow card for arguing with officials. After attempting to join the handshake line following the game, a police officer was called over to walk him back off the field.

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