BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
ARGOS — Nate Manikowski and A.J. Mills scored twice each, and the Argos boys soccer team held Winamac without a shot on goal in recording a 7-0 win in a Class 1A, Sectional 37 semifinal at Eugene Snyder Field Wednesday.
Luke Stults and Enrique Estrada also scored for Argos, who snapped their 10-game losing streak and improved to 3-14.
Argos will play North White in the sectional final at 7 p.m. Saturday. North White beat Caston 4-3 in overtime in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
“This is probably the best I’ve felt all year,” Argos coach Todd VanDerWeele said. “We’ve had an awfully rough season. … It’s just getting them to understand to do that every game. And it’s finally nice to play a school our size.
“And I think these guys understand… I don’t think we’re a 2-14 team. Are we a 14-2 team? Probably not, but we’re not a 2-14 team. And we’ve got some kids that can play some good soccer. … In the right environment, they can do a lot of good things, and tonight, everything finally clicked.”
Winamac finished their season on a six-game losing streak and fell to 3-14.
The seven goals were a season high for Argos. They had scored just 15 goals in their 16 previous games.
Manikowski had scored just once all season prior to Wednesday but scored on his own rebound in the fourth minute after Winamac goalkeeper Carter Ulerick stopped his first shot.
Stults scored on a header after Ethan Petz led him on a cross to make it 2-0 at the 32:13 mark.
“A lot of the problems we’ve had this year is we’ve not been able to link up with the outsides,” VanDerWeele said. “A lot of attacks down the middle, which is very easy to defend, I feel. When we play a team like that, I think we can shut a team like that down. One of the changes we’ve made tonight is getting Stults outside, and it seems weird putting a 6-4 guy on the outside, but when he gets the ball on his foot, he can attack so fast, and that’s hard to deal with. Defenders don’t like to see a kid coming at you full speed.”
A Mills lefty finish after dribbling inside the 18 made it 3-0 at 24:02.
Mills knocked in a loose ball after an Ulerick save with 16:46 left in the half to make it 4-0.
Argos has five seniors on its roster. Mills is the only player who has played in a state championship game. Argos won the Class 1A state title in 2019, and Mills got extensive playing time on Argos’ 2020 state runner-up team.
“It was a struggle for awhile,” VanDerWeele said. “A.J. played with certain guys for two years, and there are so many new faces, and I think you just have that period of time that it takes a team to get used to each other, and I think that finally in the last week and a half … tonight he was winning the ball and he was distributing it for the first 60 minutes. He had an outstanding field game. … In a difficult season, he’s tried to stay positive, and he’s tried to grow as a leader, and he has grown. … He’s been in a state championship game. He played last year against (Fort Wayne) Canterbury. He knows.”
A lefty finish from Manikowski inside the far post off another Petz assist made it 5-0 with 3:54 left in the half.
That triggered a running clock, per the IHSAA mercy rule.
Argos added an own goal with 31:05 left, and Mills fed Estrada for a goal with 18:46 left to complete the scoring.