MIDDLEBURY — Micah Wieland is the lone freshman on the Northridge boys soccer varsity roster. At 5-foot-2, maybe 125 pounds, he’s also the Raiders’ smallest player.
Yet, on Saturday afternoon, he appeared composed enough and confident enough to suggest he was the oldest, and he stepped up the biggest.
Wieland drilled home the clinching shootout goal as the No. 10-ranked Raiders escaped feisty Elkhart Central’s upset bid for a 2-1 victory in the Class 3A Northridge Sectional championship at Todd Woodworth Field.
The Raiders won the five-round PK session 3-1, with Wieland’s winner coming in the top of the last round.
Blue Blazer sophomore keeper Isaac Miller – handling the duties in relief because starter Carlos Alvarado had come out three minutes into overtime due to injury – got a hand on Wieland’s left-footed missile, but the shot’s momentum still carried the ball into the net.
When Wieland’s turn came up – after multiple players on both sides had missed even putting their shots in frame under the pressurized circumstances – he moved briskly forward to place the ball, and he exhorted the estimated at 400 fans as he approached.
“I felt every senior and junior basically being like, ‘Hey, just bury this,’” Wieland said of his teammates. “They were like, ‘I’ve seen you bury it five times in a row in practice,’ so I said, ‘You know what, I can.’ I needed some help from the crowd, too, so I pumped them up. I just felt confident with my teammates and the (situation).”
That 5-for-5 effort in practice earlier in the week helped convince Northridge coach Lawrence Baltazar that he was going to insert Wieland into the anchor round if a game did come down to PKs.
“I felt very confident in Micah,” Baltazar said after the Raiders captured a second straight sectional crown for the first time since going back-to-back in 2009 and 2010. “At this point, I don’t look at him as a freshman. I think he’s started every game this year, and he’s a year-round soccer junkie.”
Northridge (16-2-2) won its seventh straight and improved to 8-0-2 in its last 10 to advance to next Saturday’s Penn Regional semifinals against an all-too-familiar nemesis, No. 3 Chesterton (17-0-2).
A year ago, the Trojans rallied during the final six minutes for a 4-3 win over the Raiders in the regional championship at Goshen, helping spark them to a state title.
Chesterton stands 38-0-4 over the last two years.
“Things kind of fell apart,” Baltazar recollected of Northridge’s loss a year ago. “I would say since we lost to Chesterton, I’ve thought about that game every single day since, and they haven’t lost a game since, so I’m really happy to have the opportunity to be the team that has a chance to knock them off. We’ll do everything we can to make that happen.”
The Blazers (10-9) almost prevented that chance on a windy afternoon.
Northridge finally broke on top in the 59th minute when Matthew Janatello headed in fellow senior Brody Gust’s free kick that was delivered from about 30 yards out.
Just over two minutes later, though, Central junior Naieem Bean chipped in Bryan Ramirez’s pass through the middle for the equalizer.
Each team had solid chances before and after that, but each defense was good enough to push the game into OT and ultimately into the shootout.
“I thought we played hard,” said Blazer coach Sherwin Simon, whose club was envisioning a fairy-tale title after already avenging a regular-season loss to Penn in Tuesday’s quarterfinals and knocking off No. 19 Goshen in Wednesday’s semis.
“We kept running guys in and out to stay as fresh as possible,” Simon said, “but that’s a good team over there. You have to keep fighting with those guys, because they can hurt you any time. I’m so proud of our guys … they played well and kept fighting.”
They did so even after losing starting midfielder German Mendivil for the rest of the day late in the first half to a collarbone injury, and then after losing Alvarado in overtime to a hip issue that he’d been trying to play through since early in the second half.
“We couldn’t get much going offensively,” Baltazar said. “(Central) did a nice job shutting down Cam (Chappell, the Raiders’ top scorer on the year with 15 goals and 44 points), and we had to spend a lot of time worrying about where Bryan Ramirez was, for good reason. It was just a tough game to get going. I felt like they dominated the first half and we had the better of play in the second half, but I think it was because of the wind in both cases.”
Northridge finished with a 9-6 advantage in shots on goal, and some of its best chances happened to coincided with Miller’s entry. Under siege immediately, he made a couple spectacular saves, just as Alvarado did earlier, to extend the game.
The Blazers also caught a break when Wieland’s 20-yard line drive three minutes into the second half smacked off the near post.
“I was very disappointed we were in overtime,” Wieland said, “because we wouldn’t have been in overtime if I would have hit that shot.”
To put it mildly, the freshman atoned.
Before he did, though, tallies by Gust and Jamon Christner in the first and third rounds of the shootout were sandwiched around a diving save by senior keeper Cameron Graber in the second as Northridge jumped to a 2-0 PK lead.
Central shot wide for a second time in the third round and the Raiders did so for a second time in the fourth, before the Blazers stayed alive in the bottom of that round on Bayron Garay’s goal.
“I think we tightened up a little bit,” Simon said of the shootout, “and they have a good goalkeeper, so I think we were trying to do too much. We got too wide trying to keep it away from him and it cost us, but they missed a couple, too.”
For Simon, it was his final game after eight seasons, a 95-45-5 record and one sectional title as Central coach. He does not plan to apply for the job at Elkhart High created by Central and Memorial merging into one school next fall.
“I’m going to chase my kid around a little bit, watch him,” Simon said of son Emery, a goalie at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “It’s his sophomore year, so I’ve already missed quite a bit.”
NORTHRIDGE 2, ELKHART CENTRAL 1
(Northridge Wins Shootout 3-1)
N — Matt Janatello (Brody Gust assist) 59th minute.
C — Naieem Bean (Bryan Ramirez) 61st.
Shots on goal: Northridge 9, Central 6. Goalie saves: Northridge — Cameron Graber 5; Central — Carlos Alvarado 3, Isaac Miller 4. Corner kicks: Northridge 8, Central 2.
Shootout goals: Northridge — Gust, Jamon Christner, Micah Wieland; Central — Bayron Garay.
Records: Northridge 16-2-2, Central 10-9.
Next: Northridge vs. Chesterton (17-0-2) in Penn Regional semifinal Saturday, following Lake Central (9-5-1) vs. SB Adams (9-8-1) at 10 a.m.; championship at 7 p.m.