RENSSELAER | A few minutes into the championship game of the Class A Rensselaer Sectional on Saturday, it took on the feel of one goal was going to take all.
Wheeler (8-9-1) was able to defend its title with that one goal, a header by junior Austin Sloboda in the 68th minute for a 1-0 victory over host Rensselaer (13-5-1).
“We were trying all game,” Sloboda said. “We just couldn’t put it in the back of the net, couldn’t finish and then we got one.”
Ben Nettels found Sloboda in the front of the net with a cross, and Sloboda headed it past Bombers goalkeeper Simmeon Gastineau.
“I just saw the ball and came up behind a player,” Sloboda said. “It was all a flash. I got right in front of him.”
Wheeler coach David Bock said the team has counted on Sloboda to make the big play when it counts.
“We put it on him in the middle of the season that you’ve got to score the big goals for us in the big games, and he’s got all the talent in the world,” Bock said. “In the morning he did the same thing, and tonight he got the game winner again. He really stepped up.”
Sloboda’s goal with 11 minutes and 56 seconds was huge with how well both teams had played.
“It was a battle,” Rensselaer coach Chip Gull said. “Our defense was playing very well, and they just snuck in a goal there with the header. They had a lot of pressure on us, and we did a very good job of handling it in the first half.
“We wanted to turn the tide on them on the offensive end in the second half. We did accomplish that, but they we able to sneak in that one goal. That‘s really all it takes in this game.”
Wheeler advances to Thursday’s LaVille Regional and will face Bethany Christian. Bock was happy to be able to defend the sectional title.
“It’s about a moment, and to win sectional championships sometimes that’s what it is -- it’s going to be the moment you come up with it, and they came up with the big play,” he said.
The Bearcats advanced to the championship with a 2-1 win over Covenant Christian Saturday morning before the Bombers eliminated Hanover Central 5-1.