ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph’s boys soccer team was better prepared to take on a Division 2 top-five team this time around.
The No. 10-ranked Bears posted an early goal, then added another in a 2-0 shutout victory over Division 2 No. 3 Mattawan in the gold bracket of the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference tournament.
The Bears advance to play for a conference championship next Tuesday at the No. 1-rated team in Division 2, Gull Lake.
St. Joseph (13-4-1) and Mattawan (12-3-3) had played once already during the regular season, a 3-1 victory for the Wildcats on Sept. 3.
In Thursday’s matchup, Bears coach John Brown said his team made adjustments for the No. 3-rated team in Division 2.
“I took a chance of changing things up, and I got it wrong,” Brown said on the first game against Mattawan. “That affected us in the first half. We gave up three goals. We tried to do something different with personnel. I figured it would be a good thing to try then if it didn’t work. We switched it up in the second half, so it was a 0-0 second half.
“Today, we actually played our game. We like to move the ball. Playing on the turf helps us a little bit, too. We were composed on the ball and we looked to move the ball like we should be.”
St. Joseph’s first goal came just over 15 minutes into the game. Mattawan was pushing on the attack, but the Bears were able to counter and clear it back to their own end.
St. Joseph’s sophomore midfielder, Jacob Scouler, was able to break free of the defense and finish to give the Bears an early advantage.
Following the halftime break, the Bears added another goal early in the half after Casey Miller scored from inside the 18-yard box on an assist by Brenden Nolte.
St. Joseph’s defense was solid in the first half, as Mattawan was unable to put a shot on goal until nearly 10 minutes into the second half.
The Wildcats had plenty of scoring opportunities in the second half, however, as they were able to even their shot total with the Bears, with both teams putting six on net by game’s end.
Senior keeper Nick Menke subbed in for the second half after Preston Nichols played in the first. Menke saved all six of Mattawan’s shots, including a key save at point-blank range with 21 minutes remaining.
Mattawan keeper Carson Foor finished with four saves.
“It was 11 defending, but Nick took his opportunities and made the saves he needed to,” Brown said. “There was definitely the ownership of getting a shutout. There was pressure on the ball. We really talked about our shape, which helps us defensively, but also helps us offensively. I thought today both halves it was fantastic. We did change some things up with personnel as well that I thought was beneficial.”
Brown said the Bears are expecting another tough game out of Gull Lake (15-0-1), a team they fell to by a 3-1 margin on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a battle again,” said Brown. “It’ll be at their place. I thought we had a good run for 60 minutes in that game. We had two (shots) that hit the post, a couple that were right on the goal line, so I think we maybe caught them. We’ll see, and that’s what Tuesday is all about.
“We’d like to see them twice. We want to see them at regionals again.”
St. Joseph 2, Mattawan 0
Goals — Jacob Scouler, Casey Miller.
Assists — Brenden Nolte.
Shots — St. Joseph 6, Mattawan 6.
Saves — Nick Menke (SJ) 6, Preston Nichols (SJ) 0, Carson Foor (M) 4.
Halftime — St. Joseph 1-0.
JV — 0-0 tie.
Records — St. Joseph 13-4-1, Mattawan 12-3-3.
Contact: bspencer@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSpencer