BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
KOKOMO –- Argos boys soccer coach Todd VanDerWeele had a hunch.
His No. 1 Dragons were trailing No. 7 Heritage Christian by a goal for much of the second half of their Class 1A semistate game at Kokomo High School’s Walter Cross Field, but he sensed that his team was going to get the equalizer at some point.
Welcome to Argos boys soccer, where faith gets rewarded after much, much effort and competitive desire.
Michael Richard, whose motto is always to keep shooting, scored on a penalty kick with 6:29 left in regulation to tie the game, and he then added the game-winner on a left-footed strike into the upper right corner of the net with 1:06 left in the second overtime period to give Argos a 4-3 win.
Argos moved within a win of its second straight state title. They will play No. 2 Providence in the championship game at 11 a.m. this Saturday.
Providence eliminated Indianapolis Lutheran 3-0 in the south semistate in Evansville. Indianapolis Lutheran was the team Argos beat in last year’s state title game.
Given little room to breathe by the tight Heritage Christian defense all game, Richard beat Heritage Christian goalkeeper Dalton Sheltz with the game-winning goal.
“They were marking me the whole game,” Richard said. “Whenever I had the ball and whenever I was attacking, they knew where I was. … I shoot a lot whenever I’m playing, just like distance shots. I feel like I hit a couple of them during the season. So just having the confidence to keep shooting if I don’t make one.”
Devon Allen and Jake Stults also scored for Argos (18-3-1) in the first half.
Caleb Williams, Noah Hamm and Justin Pinyot scored for the Eagles, who finished 11-8-1.
Williams scored on a run from the left flank with 32:41 left in the first half.
Gabe Stone assisted on Allen’s goal, putting precise touch on an airborne crossing pass that found Allen’s foot at point blank range against Sheltz. That tied the game 1-1 with 30:18 left in the half.
Hamm put Heritage Christian ahead at 2-1 with 27:00 left, and Pinyot fired a 35-yard bullet past Argos goalkeeper Kurt Johnson with 16:30 left in the half to make it 3-1.
Heritage Christian would go 70-plus minutes without scoring though.
And Argos started their rally with 1:40 left in the half. Stults scored the goal on a deflection, but much of the work came from Caden Nifong, who dribbled in from the left, sidestepped defenders and then fired a dangerous ball that bounced off Stults’ shin and in the net.
“I would say the biggest play of the game was getting that second one right before halftime,” VanDerWeele said. “Instead of having that two-goal deficit, that was huge for us. Absolutely huge.”
At halftime, VanDerWeele made a defensive adjustment, moving Gabe Stone to left back to join players like Karzdon McCrammer, Aden Mills and Colton Markley in the back. Heritage Christian only had one shot on frame in the second half and overtimes.
“It was a combination of basically telling the kids what we weren’t doing well in the first half and what we let them do to us,” VanDerWeele said. “We were under constant attack for most of the first half. And we did nothing. We just let them do that. So we broke some of that. Then we changed some guys around. Moved Gabe back. That kind of made us a little bit stronger in the back for some reason today. It worked because Gabe had an outstanding game.”
Through his preparation, VanDerWeele believed that Heritage Christian would play more conservatively with the lead.
“We knew this from the scouting that we were able to get: Heritage likes to get ahead and just salt that game away. And they were doing that. I knew that eventually … I don’t know what minute that was that we scored that PK, but I knew that we would get one.”
Argos also got contributions from defender-turned-forward Ben Rangel and Spanish exchange student Tomas Guitierrez. Richard became more active in the second half.
Argos won its regional games against Morgan Township and Kouts and its semistate game against Heritage Christian without a goal from Teddy Redinger, who led Argos with 26 goals during the regular season.
Then again, the Dragons held Heritage Christian top scorer Max Robbins scoreless.
“Colton on the right side then, and having the rotation … Ben Rangel gave us great minutes up top,” VanDerWeele said. “Tomas, he didn’t have a lot of minutes, but they were big minutes. He just did something different. Jake Stults gave us good minutes up top and out on the right side. It was just trying to break them down.”
Stults also had a shot less than two minutes into the first overtime that required a great stop from Sheltz. Stults also had a shot in the second overtime that hit the football crossbar just above the goal.
But before Richard made his penalty kick, it was Allen who drew the foul in the box.
“He’s probably our most technical player,” VanDerWeele said. “He's very crafty. He knows the game probably better than anyone on the team. If it’s sliding a ball to a guy or making that sly defensive play, he does it. And he’s very good at finding his teammates and putting them in good spots to get down the field farther.”
And after Allen was fouled, Argos called on Richard to take the penalty kick. The PK didn’t meet Richard’s high standards, but it beat Sheltz to the right, and the game was tied.
“The keeper was off to the right a little bit,” Richard said. “He wasn’t in the center, so I just put it to the left. But it should’ve been a better PK.”
This isn’t the first time Richard has been associated with athletic heroics. He made the game-winning basket at the buzzer in Argos’ 28-26 win over Triton in the sectional basketball final. He also had a goal in last year’s 2-0 semistate win over Lakewood Park.
“Wonderful,” Richard said of the win. “We put a lot of work in this season, and then we had high expectations and to get there, it just feels wonderful.”
Heritage Christian coach Caleb Schnake appeared to argue vociferously with the lead official afterwards after the Eagles were not awarded a penalty kick late in regulation.
Argos junior Teddy Redinger celebrates with the Class 1A semistate trophy after the Dragons’ 4-3 win over Heritage Christian in overtime at Kokomo Saturday. Redinger leads Argos with 26 goals on the season.
Former Argos player Jonah Osborn lifts up Michael Richard (10) to celebrate after Argos’ 4-3 win over Heritage Christian in the Class 1A boys soccer semistate at Kokomo Saturday. Several other former Argos players attended to support Richard and his teammates. Richard scored the game-tying goal on penalty kick with 6:29 left in regulation and the game-winning goal with 1:06 left in overtime as the Dragons won their second straight semistate title. Argos will play Providence at 11 a.m. this Saturday at Fishers High School in the state title game.