Any time a team gets to play a regular season game at Mapfre Stadium, home of the Columbus Crew, it is a special occasion.
For the third time in school history the Hawks traveled to Columbus to play in the huge stadium, and for the third time it got a positive result. This time, with a 3-1 win over West Carrollton (near Cincinnati).
Hiland head coach Scott Bodiker said that while winning is always on the front burner, he and assistant coach Connor Lee agreed that it was vitally important to get every single varsity player into the game.
“We made that decision before the start of the game,” said Bodiker. “We were playing everyone no matter what. We felt it was important for this kind of occasion, and even when we were ahead 2-1, we put some guys into a tight game that don’t always get a chance to play a lot, but we thought that was important, because all of these guys work hard all season long and deserved that chance.”
They did that with abandonment, even when the game got a little hairy late. Not only was it a treat to get everyone into the game, it was a special thrill for senior defender Ben Beachy.
Beachy, a season ticket holder with the Crew, had his own personal cheering section from Columbus, comprised of the group of season ticket holders with whom he usually cheers alongside for the Crew.
This time, the Crew fans came out in force to support Beachy, who logged a lot of minutes as his fans showed their support with chanting and some large signs.
“That was pretty special,” said Beachy following the game.
It was special for senior midfielder Joe Agha-Khan too. Agha-Khan got the scoring started early on when he chipped the Pirates keeper for a 1-0 lead. It was his first goal of the season, but he wasn’t done.
Hiland (7-2-2) continued to control the pace, possession, and it kept attacking, although it couldn’t muster a second goal despite several close calls.
That all changed when Clay Gerber found the net seven minutes into the second half to make it 2-0. An apparent Braden Mast goal was wiped away when a ball that was across the line was deemed to have not passed all the way across. Tyson Gingerich had several shots sail just wide or high as he tried to up the lead.
In a game that seemed lopsided, Bodiker kept running his entire squad in and out of the line-up. While the Div. I Pirates (1-10-1) were playing very hard and physical, they mustered little on offense, until with about 10 minutes to play they knocked in a loose ball in the box and it was suddenly 2-1.
There was no panic in the Hawks, however, and Agha-Khan provided the ammunition, sending a perfect corner kick into the mass in the box, where Derek Miller found it at his feet. The high-scoring senior delivered the goal to give Hiland all the breathing room it would need.
“This one was a little frustrating in that with the shots being 25-5 or something like that, it felt like we should have been able to put this one away quicker,” said Bodiker. “We let them hang around. That is a game that we have to do a better job of burying someone. This team has shown a killer instinct this year but we just didn’t show it today.
The game was originally slated to take place at 2:30 p.m., but a scheduling snafu forced the game to be moved up to 1:15, and left no time for the teams to get any warm-up time on the field at Mapfre Stadium.
“Today was different for a variety of reasons, and we kind of had to run around and were very rushed,” said Bodiker. “We didn’t have time to get totally focused, and it showed early on. We weren’t where we needed to be mentally.”
The Hawks were also without keeper Isaiah Yoder, who was ill, but back-ups Derek Burke and Sam Raber did a fine job in coming in and manning the net for the Hawks.
“It was actually good to put Derek and Sam in this kind of a situation because they are going to be our guys next year, and so it was nice to see them play well,” said Bodiker.
Bodiker also had high praise for Agha-Khan, who has quietly become a big assist guy for the Hawks. He also said Gerber has been an unsung hero on this team.
“Clay has been playing as well as anyone on our team,” said Bodiker. “He comes in off the bench, he brings a ton of energy and he works so hard. That is important to be able to bring that kind of offense off the bench, and he hasn’t complained at all. We have had that kind of team-first attitude this year.”