By any definition the Oakwood Comets and the Salt Fork/Westville Storm Tigers are familiar opponents.
The two teams met six days ago and in their third and most important meeting this season faced each other Wednesday in regional semifinal action at the IHSA Class 1A Schlarman Academy Regional.
Noah Darr scored on a free kick in the 78th minute to seal the win as the Storm Tigers advanced to their second consecutive regional final with a 4-2 win over the Comets.
“It’s great to be able to return to the regional final,’’ said Salt Fork/Westville coach Todd Woods. “Each year for the past few years the program has gone a step farther each season and already this year we are near the most wins we’ve ever had (11-5-1) and we will be looking to take that next step by winning the regional.’’
It was nearly a case of the third time being the charm for the Comets who had lost the first two meetings with Storm Tigers.
Oakwood cut the deficit to one goal a minute prior to Darr’s goal when Jason Mackiewicz found the back of the net, but the Comets quickly lost the momentum when Darr scored.
“Jason was our second leading scorer this year,’’ Oakwood coach Eric Fenton said. “I told our team that if we had played like we played tonight all season we would have had a much better record. We have struggled with intensity all season, but not tonight.’’
The game was back and forth and scoreless for the first 36 minutes with each team having opportunities. Alex Burke got SFW on the board in the 37th minute.
“Alex has been out for five games and this was his first game back,’’ Woods said. “He had an ankle injury and came back very impressively tonight.’’
The Storm Tigers would take a 2-0 lead into halftime when Jordan Romo scored the first of his two goals in the 39th minute.
“I think Oakwood had just as many shot opportunities in the first half,’’ Woods said. “We were just able to get a couple in. Our keeper Aaron Marx has really come on the last few games. He started to step things up in the Hoopeston game and he was very impressive tonight.’’
Synan Nicholson would get the Comets on the board in the 49th minute.
“Synan has been our best player all season,’’ Fenton said. “He led us in goals and had the most touches tonight. He has been with the team for four seasons and has started for three. He was a starting defenseman for us two years ago before becoming a major force on offense.’’
The Comets had a chance to tie on a free kick in the 63rd minute but Romo quickly answered back scoring his second goal in the 64th minute.
“We won that game six days ago 5-1 but we knew tonight’s game would be more like the first game when we won 2-0,’’ Woods said. “We knew we couldn’t take Oakwood lightly because we had won the first two games. We knew their defense would be tight and it is hard to beat a team three times in the same season. Noah Darr runs the offense for us and it goes through him, but we have been working on distributing the ball and did a nice job of that tonight.’’
The Comets finish the season at 4-12-4.
“We have the four seniors (Nicholson, Mackiewicz, Wesley Day, Nathan Baker) but we have nine sophomores, six of whom were starters,’’ Fenton said. “I hope they learned tonight the difference intensity can make and they take that lesson with them into the off season and next year. If they do that we have no excuse to not be good next season.’’
The second-seeded Storm Tigers will face the top seeded St.Joseph-Ogden Spartans for the regional title at 1 p.m. Saturday at Schlarman’s Drummy Field.