MISHAWAKA — Matt Eppers made the save of the night, and he wasn’t even the goalie or bailing out a goalie.
Rather, on one of Central’s many penetrations deep into Penn’s defensive end, the Blue Blazer midfielder hustled after and saved a ball that appeared almost certain to be going out of bounds at the end line.
He knocked it over his own head into the box area, where fellow senior Isaias Morales one-touched it into the net for the tie-breaking score with just 2:24 remaining as the Blazers rallied to knock off the Kingsmen 2-1 in Thursday’s Class 2A Mishawaka Regional semifinals at Ward Baker Park.
“I was actually trying to shoot it at first, but I shanked it,” Eppers said. “So I was just trying to go get it and get it into the box. Thank the Lord that I got a second chance at it.”
Eppers was also thankful that he got turned around in time to witness what happened next.
“That was one of the best finishes I’ve ever seen out of anyone,” Eppers said of the Morales tally from 15 yards. “He gets a one-time ball into the lower 90. It was ridiculous.”
“I was behind (Matt) and the ball just came and I just curved it in,” shrugged Morales, who has four of Central’s eight goals this postseason. “It went through the peep hole, in the corner.”
“One of the things we talk about is just keeping the ball in play,” winning coach Sherwin Simon said, “and Matt did a wonderful job of keeping the ball in play. If you keep it in the box, anything can happen.”
The 12th-ranked Blazers (16-2-1) advanced to Saturday night’s championship against No. 2-rated Warsaw.
The Tigers have had to forfeit a handful of regular-season matches due to an administrative mistake involving a backup transfer player, but the reality is that they’re a 17-1-2 club on the field.
“Had not seen them before tonight,” Simon said of Warsaw, which won the opening semi 1-0 over South Bend St. Joseph. “They’re tough, really tough, but our guys are looking forward to that.”
For the second straight game, Central won Thursday after trailing 1-0 in the first half, and this time still trailing by that count deep into the second half.
With 12:01 remaining, however, a holding foul was called on the Kingsmen in the box, and Elliott Miller drilled in the resulting penalty kick to knot the score at 1-all.
Penn coach Ryan Leniski acknowledged his frustration at the call.
“I just feel like it wasn’t settled on the field like it should be, for the second time here,” said Leniski, whose team lost 1-0 to eventual state runner-up Warsaw in last year’s regional final on the same field.
“Apparently, we held someone, but they didn’t even know who held,” Leniski said. “It changed the complexion of the match.”
The Kingsmen (10-9) scored 20 minutes into the game on a goal by Darnell Oliver.
He’s one of three sophomores who started for Penn, along with three juniors. Further, other impact underclassmen came into the game quickly off the bench.
“We’re a young club, but we’ve gotten better, and tonight was a full 80 (minutes) on our part, for sure,” Leniski said of his team’s effort. “We haven’t had full 80s. We’ve had 40s, we’ve had 60s, we’ve had 70s, but we know you play for October.”
2A Mishawaka Regional
Central 2, Penn 1
P — Darnell Oliver (Edson Zamora assist) 20th minute.
C — Elliott Miller (penalty kick) 68th.
C — Isaias Morales (Matt Eppers) 78th.
Shots on goal: Central 15, Penn 7. Saves: Central — Derek Mills 6; Penn — Andrew Costello 13. Corners: Central 5, Penn 3.
Other semifinal: Warsaw 1, SB St. Joseph 0. Goal — Nathan Kolbe (Grant Allbritten assist).
Records: Central 16-2-1, Penn 10-9, Warsaw 17-1-2 (on field), St. Joseph 13-4-2.
Next: Central vs. Warsaw in Mishawaka Regional championship Saturday at Ward Baker Park, 7 p.m.