By Justin Whitaker
GREENCASTLE — Throughout the entire game, the Tri-West Bruins and Covenant Christian Warriors boys’ soccer teams mirrored each other.
Both squads battled so tight that it wasn’t until 2:21 remaining that a winner emerged.
Covenant’s Keaton Joseph scored the game-clinching goal to lead the Warriors to victory 2-1 Thursday night in the regional opener at Greencastle.
“It was just one bad bounce of the ball and it bounced right to his foot and the kid did a great job putting into the back of the net,” Tri-West coach Adam Bontreger said.
After being tied at 1 for 43 minutes, Joseph’s goal was the difference in front of a loud, well-traveled Bruins crowd.
“It’s gut wrenching. I thought we outplayed them the first half,” Bontreger said. “In the second half, they definitely outplayed us. It was obvious that we were losing steam, starting to get tired and it showed on their offensive push.”
Covenant (7-12-1) struck first five minutes into the game when Jon Christensen put his head on a bouncing ball in the box.
Tri-West (14-5) evened the score when senior Josh McGrath blasted a free kick from 30’ into the back of the net with 4:07 left in the first half.
There was never a favorite through the game, both teams matched up evenly as it was difficult for either to separate.
“I think it was extremely even. As you watched the game, it was a tale of two halves. In the first half we came out with a lot confidence and energy,” Bontreger said. “But in the second half they dominated play and were able to really run us up and down the field. You’ve got to give them credit, they are a heck of a team.”
The Bruins graduate seven seniors in McGrath, Braden Jones, Robbie Brandkamp, Jake England, Sam Koelling, Jarod Sparks and Jake Gimbel.
McGrath’s play stuck out for Bontreger this season.
“Josh McGrath has played incredible soccer the last six to eight games. He has basically carried our team along with Sam Koelling,” Bontreger said. “McGrath’s play has gone to another level. That kid is definitely a kid that can play college soccer somewhere. It’s unfortunate that more coaches haven’t heard about him or seen him play because that kid can flat out play the game.”
Koelling, a two-year captain, scored 22 goals this season, two short of a school record.
On top of losing the seven seniors, the Bruins are also losing their coach. Bontreger coached his final game as the Tri-West head coach because he is stepping down after three seasons.
“It’s hard because it’s something I love,” he said. “I love the game of soccer, I’m fortunate enough to have an administration that allowed me to coach two varsity sports in back-to-back seasons.”
Also the head coach of Tri-West’s boys’ basketball team, the time constraints of being the head coach of two sports in back-to-back fall and winter seasons were too much for Bontreger. It was a move made with complete focus on his wife, Stephanie and his two boys, a two-year-old and a six-month-old.
“It’s going to be able to give me to spend more time on what’s most important in life and that’s my family,” Bontreger said.
Even though Bontreger is stepping down, he has thoroughly enjoyed his three seasons at the helm of the Bruins.
“I just want to thank Tri-West and my kids for all of their hard work for me the last three years,” he said. “Obviously it’s hard for me leaving on a note like this but I think the lessons that these guys have learned from me and from my other coaches I think are going to take them a long way.
“Unfortunately chapters come to the end, books have to finish and we got to start a new book and a new chapter. It’s not always an easy thing to take but it’s part of life.”