This past spring, on the road to Hiland’s first baseball state championship, head coach Tom Gibson had a very profound idea after his team bounced a solid but not spectacular Martins Ferry squad in the district semi-finals. “It’s survive and advance,” Gibson said after the Hawks won 4-1 with only four hits to their credit.
The credo proved to be somewhat prophetic, after Hiland followed Gibson and the electric arm of Eric Mullet to the state title. For Scott Bodiker’s soccer version of the Hawks, they played their own version of that tournament stage, even if it was more dominant than its baseball kin.
Hiland used a relentless offensive assault to overwhelm Wheelersburg 4-2 in the district semi at Athens, and while the score seemed to indicate a result closer than the game actually was, their was cause for some concern by the break.
Joe Agha-Khan opened things up early for Hiland when he took a Garrett Miller cross from the right side and blasted one low for a 1-0 lead. After Derek Miller was tackled as he attacked through the teeth of the Pirates defense, the referee missed the flag of the AR which would’ve given the Hawks another nice opportunity with a direct kick head-on from 30 yards out.
No matter, as Agha-Khan netted his second of the game with an assist by Sinjon Howell at the 25:50 mark of the first half to give Hiland, which had been assaulting Wheelersburg the entire period, a 2-0 advantage and the Hawks were rolling thanks to their new offensive weapon.
“Usually I don’t look to score, I look to assist,” said Agha-Khan. “But (Coach Bodiker) said to come out hungry and with energy, so I did my best to do that.”
But just as it looked as if Hiland would roll into the break with a commanding lead, the Hawks’ aggression led to a gap midfield and a 4-on-4 run. A couple of deft passes led to a breakaway goal at 7:00 that tightened it to a one-goal game at the half.
Coming out refocused after the break, Hiland was at it again early on in the second.
Sinjon Howell smoked one home off a Derek Miller assist to give Hiland its two-goal lead back at the 38:30 mark before Miller had another beautiful pass to a streaking Tyson Gingerich to blow it open at 4-1 only a few minutes later and the Hawks looked to be on the verge of a blowout.
As the game rolled on to conclusion, a Pirates’ breakaway led to a tackle and yellow card in the box with 4:00 remaining, and a Christian Hughes penalty kick made it a 4-2 final.
With the win, Hiland (15-2-2) was on its way to the district finals where they are scheduled to face nemesis Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans next Saturday at 5 p.m. in Athens.
“I wasn’t too worried about the travel time,” said Bodiker of the long journey to Athens. “This senior group, especially, is a pretty focused bunch.”
Not only was the long trip a factor, the game-time temperature of low 40s and 8:30 p.m. starting time made for a cold, wet contest.
“I was here watching games all day today, and the difference between the 2 p.m. and the 8 p.m. game was huge,” said Bodiker. “With the moisture at night, we couldn’t hold onto the ball and passes were really skipping. It was just a really different game.”
As it was, Hiland continued its streak of good play, and while the margin of victory could’ve been greater, Bodiker was pleased with the effort his Hawks advanced to play another day.
“We been playing pretty well,” he said. “I think the guys are confident, we’ve played a pretty difficult schedule and I think we’re prepared for the challenges ahead, whatever that may be. But from here on out, it’s business time for sure.”