EDINBORO - Warren is a much different boys soccer team than the one that started the 2013 season.
And that's an understatement.
Mirroring the regular season, the Dragons were down early on Wednesday, but came from behind to defeat Wilmington, 2-1, in the District 10 Class AA playoff semifinals at General McLane High School.
Times Observer photo by Jon Sitler
Goal at hand
Warren goalie Clark Eason jumps to make a save during a 2-1 District 10 Class AA playoff semifinal win over Wilmington on Wednesday at General McLane High School.
"We've improved," were the first words Warren boys soccer coach Tom Harrington uttered as the Dragons were celebrating at midfield after 80 hard-fought minutes. "What a difference."
Warren graduated nine seniors from last year's playoff team, and had to overcome injuries and lineup adjustments during an 0-7 start.
"So we had to rebuild," said Harrington, "and the guys did do that."
After starting 0-7, Warren went 5-2-1 and made the playoffs as the top Class AA team out of Region 4. Behind a "cornerstone" of junior 15-goal scorer Quinn Boger, the Dragons opened the playoffs at 5-10-1 overall, but dominated Girard, 3-0, in the quarterfinals. Boger had two of Warren's three goals in that win.
Harrington said the Dragons have improved their teamwork - "the keep-away mindset started to come, and when we are passing right, it makes us seem faster than we are," he said.
Warren is now a team that can overcome a slow start, evidenced by Wednesday's semifinal game.
Wilmington's Cody Cooper scored off a corner kick in front of Warren's goal just over seven minutes into Wednesday's semifinal. The Dragons would spend the next 30 minutes on the clock fighting for the equalizer; it was a much more physical game than Monday's quarterfinal.
Ben Auzou had two shots over the net within three minutes - the second causing the Wilmington goalie to get checked out from a fall. A minute later, Simon Smith's throw in to Boger started a beautiful fight for the ball for several yards. Boger kept possession and chipped it from close range past the goalie for the 1-1 tie.
Warren and Wilmington kept trading shots in the second half. The half started with a Wilmington miss from close range, and Boger nearly beat a sprinting Greyhounds goalie to ball the ball in front of the net.
Ten minutes into the half, Jason Stanton had a clean steal that forced a Warren breakaway, but Stanton just missed getting a pass to Boger or Auzou before the goalie got his hands on the ball.
Mitch Dorunda had been helping to win midfield battles for the ball. Eventually, Boger took the ball forward to Auzou, who deflected a shot to Ryan Gustafson left of the goal. Gustafson headed a ball up to Boger, who made a nifty move to the middle and blasted his second goal to the left side of the net untouched. Warren led for the first time, 2-1, with 26:29 remaining
Gustafson continued the Warren opportunities, taking a ball deep into Wilmington's end before the angle closed off.
Next, Wilmington (11-5-1) started a push, but Warren goalie Clark Eason had four saves within three minutes, including on a breakaway and a free kick. Eason added another save off a corner kick at 15:43.
Warren nearly put the match away, and Boger nearly had a hat trick. Boger beat two Wilmington defenders draped all over him for a good 20 yards before sliding and punching the ball past the goalie. That shot missed the right post by a foot.
Eason's last save of 13 in all came with 45 seconds left when the ball may have clipped Dorunda's shoulder near the goal. It may have been his toughest save.
It's no surprise the Dragons overcame adversity.
"We had a pretty tough schedule," said Stanton, a senior. "I think that's why we're here. It has gotten us so much better. I think it showed how strong we are (coming back from) down one."
The Dragons have their work cut out for them, meeting undefeated Region 5 champion Harbor Creek (19-0) in the District 10 Class AA title game at 4 p.m. Saturday, back at General McLane's Linden Field. Warren lost, 7-0, to Harbor Creek earlier this season as part of its 0-7 start, and the Huskies beat Slippery Rock, 7-1, on Wednesday in the other semifinal.