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NAC champ Badger prepares for tourney

VIENNA — The Badger High School boys soccer team sees many similarities between this season and last season.

The Braves repeated as champion of the Northeastern Athletic Conference and again are seeded second in the Division III Gates Mills district tournament, which begins next week. Kirtland is the top seed, like last season.

“Our goal is to reach the district final and get a rematch of last season’s district championship match against Kirtland,” said Jacob Miller, one of three seniors for the Braves. “I think we’re much better than last year and we’ve worked on some things that hurt us last year. We’re applying more ball pressure on defense and we’ve improved on possession and quicker passing.”

Miller did forget, maybe convieniently, about the score of last year’s district final, as Kirtland won 5-0.

“All I know is it was a lot to too little,” he said.

The Braves improved to 13-1 overall and 7-0 in the league on Tuesday, beating host Mathews 7-2. Jack Springer scored three goals and had an assist and Luke Springer scored twice and had two helpers. Maxwell Wilson scored twice and Billy Burns Jr. had an assist.

“I’m happy with the way we’ve been playing and I think our guys feel good about themselves as we get ready for the postseason,” said coach Justin Deraway, whose team’s lone loss this season was 2-1 to Lakewood. “We won 12 league championships in a row, but then went three years without a title until last year when we shared it with Newbury. So we’ve won two in a row now (and 14 of the past 17).

“We’re 13-1, won our league and played a pretty good non-conference schedule, so we’re optmistic about our chances at district. But we’re in a good district where several teams can beat you if you’re not on top of your game. Our strength this season has been our possession. We take advantage of opportunities up top when we get them and we’re pretty good in the midfield.”

While the offense has scored a bunch, the defense needs to be solid every step of the way in the tournament.

“We’ve had nine shutouts and our goalkeeper, Dylan Miller, has 72 saves,” Deraway said. “He’s been excellent and our defense has done a good job in front of him.”

Mathews, which dipped to 7-7-1 overall and 3-5 in the league, used Tuesday’s game to give everyone playing time. Badger also used its entire bench throughout.

“Our goalie usually has a clean sheet, but our defense didn’t help him as much today because we were using everyone and had a different lineup in there at times,” Jacob Miller said. “But we’re ready to go.”

Badger closes the regular season Saturday against Maplewood and might face the Rockets again in the second round of the district tournament. The Braves have a first-round bye and will play host to either seventh-seeded Maplewood or 10th-seeded Cardinal at 1 p.m. Oct. 19.

Mathews got goals from Dominic Greenwood and Dallas Runner on Tuesday. The Mustangs are seeded third in the Warren district, behind No. 1 Crestwood and No. 2 Champion. They have a first-round bye and will open at home at 1 p.m. Oct. 19 against sixth-seeded Newton Falls or 11th-seeded Jackson-Milton.

“I’m so proud of this team,” coach George Callow said. “Two years ago, we went 0-16 and last year we didn’t think we’d have enough players to field a team. But we had a senior recruit a bunch of players and we finished 4-13. Now we’re trying to finish with a winning record.

“These kids work hard and have been tremendous. We’d eventually like to get a JV program, but it’s hard being the only school our size that also has a football team. That’s why we have a co-ed group playing.”

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