It wasn’t a shocker. It wasn’t a huge upset. But let’s call it a mild surprise – a pleasant surprise if you wear purple and white.
Pioneer scored twice in the second half and held off a late comeback to score a 2-1 win over Skyline in the first of two Division 1 District soccer semifinal games on Wednesday night in Dexter.
Pioneer will face SEC Red Division rival Saline at 7 p.m. on Friday in the District final at Dexter HS. The Hornets defeated Dexter 1-0 in the second semifinal game.
The Eagles, the defending state champions, finish with a 14-5-5 record.
Skyline came out in the first half and dominated play. But the Eagles, despite numerous quality chances, couldn’t finish. And playing against a quality side like Pioneer, not finishing proved to be the difference in the game.
“Weather was a big factor for both teams,” said Pioneer Coach Jon Sundermann. “It hurt us more in the first half. We just didn’t adjust well. Skyline came out real tough and had the better of the play for most of the first half. We were able to escape that fast start and go to halftime tied.”
The Eagles left the door open and Pioneer kicked it in during the second half.
Oliver Snelling celebrated his 16th birthday in style, scoring both goals for the Pioneers.
“That first goal was beautiful,” Sundermann said. “It was brilliant. He is a left footer and he was playing on the right side and from about 25 yards out placed a nice curling ball into the upper corner. You couldn’t ask for a better birthday present.”
That goal gave the Pioneers the lead at 1-0 with 35:37 left in the game – plenty of time for the talented Eagles to respond.
But it was Pioneer that added to its lead. Jackson Hall turned a great effort into a quality shot from close range, just to the left side of the Skyline goal. But Skyline goalie Daniel Bennett made a nice save on the ball. Unfortunately for Skyline, the ball ended up on the foot of Snelling and the junior delivered it into the back of the net.
The goal gave Pioneer a 2-0 lead with 28:27 left in the game – still plenty of time for the defending champs to respond. “The classic line in soccer and hockey is that the worst lead in sports is 2-0,” said Sundermann, who admitted he felt a little better at 2-0 than he did at 1-0.”
And the Eagles responded like great teams do. From about 20 yards out, junior Tyler Warren fired a rocket that Pioneer keeper Caleb Shoup had no chance of stopping. The shot not only had plenty of pace on it, but was perfectly placed in the upper left corner.
The Eagles had cut the lead to 2-1 with 16 minutes left on the clock.
But they couldn’t get the equalizer despite some close calls down the stretch.
“Skyline played really well and threw us off our game a little bit,” Sundermann said. “As the game wore on and they started to press we were able to hold them off. They have a nice group of seniors who have had a good run and they have a lot of experience and the ability to come from behind so we knew we were in for a tough fight.”
Sundermann knew his team coming in had a very good chance of knocking off the champs. And they managed to pull off the “mild surprise.”
“I am really proud of our guys,” he said. “Caleb Shoup played outstanding in goal and our seniors have showed great leadership all season and it showed tonight.”