It was Lucas Hogue's birthday on Wednesday. The West Vigo forward turned 18 on the day the Vikings played South Vermillion to get their shot at a berth in the Class 2A Monrovia Sectional championship match.
Hogue got the present he wanted as the Vikings defeated South Vermillion 4-1 on Wednesday. He also gifted himself two goals in the process.
"I can't say I've had a two-goal game on my birthday," Hogue said. "Everything we've done this year is to prepare for [the sectional]."
These two teams had drawn earlier in the season, but West Vigo seemed committed to put the Wildcats on notice early on. And the gift-wrapped opportunities that Hogue would eventually get were set up by the Vikings' initiative from the beginning — and their ability to cash in on set pieces.
Set piece goal number one came less than seven minutes into the contest. Monte Walker had a free kick from 24 yards out almost straight at the West Vigo goal. Walker placed it just to the left of South Vermillion goalkeeper Keegan Robertson and Ian Beaver was there to re-direct it goalward as the Vikings took an early 1-0 lead.
Another set piece doubled the advantage eight minutes left. On the fourth corner earned by West Vigo in the contest, Johnathan Otte floated in a gorgeous, bending corner kick from the right side corner. The corner might have had a chance to curl in on its own, but Beaver made certain of the outcome, heading it in at point-blank range for his second goal to put West Vigo up 2-0.
"That bend [Otte] has is great," said West Vigo coach Brady Cole on the corner kick. "We hone in on these situations because they're sometimes the deciding factors."
West Vigo (12-3-1) was more aggressive and it seemed this might be a match defined by one-way traffic, but South Vermillion would soon get back in it.
The Wildcats (4-6-1) nearly scored via a Bryce MacLaren free kick goal from long range at the 17-minute mark. Just a minute later, MacLaren got another free kick and made it count. From 20 yards, MacLaren struck it perfect as it cleared the West Vigo wall, but stayed high enough to get over West Vigo keeper Bryce Corbett and it was 2-1 with just over 16 minutes left in the first half.
The Wildcats threatened to score more often before halftime, and in fact, shots were even at seven apiece at the break.
"We had opportunities to score. We had chances we weren't able to put us away. The early goals set us back. We never got enough momentum," South Vermillion coach Juan Montanez said.
The Wildcats' revival continued into the early part of the second half as South Vermillion took three of the first four shots in the half, all by the dangerous MacLaren. However, West Vigo maintained its lead and would soon put the contest out of South Vermillion's reach.
A mistake on a West Vigo long ball by South Vermillion's back line sprung Hogue loose. One-on-one with Robertson, Hogue dribbled around him and calmly slotted West Vigo's third goal in the bottom left corner to restore the two-goal advantage.
The Wildcats would still threaten — attempting seven more shots, including one that sailed over an open net and a header that hit the bar, but none found the mark. Hogue put the contest out of reach with 1:26 left thanks to another mix-up in South Vermillion's defense.
West Vigo will try to defend its 2019 sectional title at 7 p.m. Saturday against the hosts — Monrovia. The Bulldogs defeated Brown County 2-0 in Wednesday's other semifinal. The Vikings won the regular season meeting 5-3 on Sept. 22.
"I think they're ready for it and they don't want to do another PK year like we did last year. If we have full 80 [minute] communication? I like where we go," Cole said.
As for South Vermillion? It was a tough year that had COVID-19-related disruptions. However, all but two Wildcats return in 2021.
"We had three games canceled due to quarantine and we played a few other games without a bench due to quarantine. I don't think our record shows how much improvement we've done in the last three years in particular. Our junior class has improved this team. We have more year with them next season to try to get back to that final like we did last season," Montanez said.