Osbourn Park’s unexpected run through the postseason ended with a 1-0 loss on Saturday in the Group AAA championship game against nationally-recognized West Springfield, a team that has left many heads hanging at the end of matches.
It was the second straight state title for the Spartans, who won their 19th straight contest and finished the season at 20-2-0. In two years, West Springfield has gone 41-2-1, their only two losses coming after a large number of players were suspended for underage drinking early in the 2002 season.
“I think everybody knows that an inch here and there and we could have been accepting the first-place trophy,” said OP coach Larry Nemerow, who made his first state tournament appearance as head coach since the 1995 Yellow Jackets boys went to the quarterfinals. “But I don’t want to take anything away from West Springfield, they’re the best team in the country.”
The Spartans took a 1-0 lead at halftime and held off a Yellow Jackets team that owned the ball for much of the second half. West Springfield got on the scoreboard in the 31st minute when Jeffrey Evans chipped in a missed shot by Patrick Carroll that deflected off OP keeper Jeremy Horbert right back to Evans at the near post.
In the half, West Springfield outshot OP 8-4 and dictated play for the first 10 minutes. For the game, West Springfield had 15 shots to seven for OP.
“It felt good [coming this far] but I know we can play a whole lot better,” said OP striker Matt Walent, who missed the Northwest Region Tournament with an ankle sprain before delivering the game-winning assist in the Yellow Jackets’ 2-1 state semifinal win over Frank W. Cox on Friday. “I know we could play 10 times better. The first half we got dominated, the second half we played a whole lot better.”
There was some consolation for the Yellow Jackets, who finished with a 16-6-1 mark and the inaugural Cedar Run regular-season district title.
In Mike Littlefield and Travis Tucker, OP graduated its top scorers from last year’s 18-2-1 squad, which lost to Hylton in the Northwest Region semifinals.
However, the Yellow Jackets made up for the losses up front with some gritty defense and stellar goalkeeping from Horbert and Dykstra.
After losing 2-1 in the Cedar Run District final against rival Osbourn, OP won five straight matches and gave up just three goals in the process.
“Nobody expected us to do anything this season,” Walent said. “Everybody just doubted us the whole way. We were district champs last year, we came into the season and didn’t even get ranked at all. We were expected to beat by Osbourn, weren’t expected to come out of our district, weren’t expected to come out of our region.”
“I have been especially lucky individually with things,” said Nemerow, “but you know what, there’s always more value and more reward and more good feelings when you accomplish something as part of a team because you have people to share it with. And this team accomplished an awful lot.”