PENINSULA: Another hurdle passed, another game placed in the win column and the Bulldogs from Woodridge are now within two games of a perfect regular season following a 3-0 homecoming win Tuesday night over Waterloo.
Some would try to act like the record doesn’t mean anything or isn’t there, hoping to not look too far ahead and lose focus.
Not this team. The Bulldogs know just how close they are to pulling off a perfect regular season.
“It’s getting real, real close,” said coach Nate Rausch, admitting there’s some added excitement around the team’s final two games that isn’t being swept under the rug. I don’t want to jinx it yet, though.”
Six months ago, 13 wins in a row probably would have been a pipe dream for Woodridge, which had won two games last season and had hired a new coach. Rausch can’t exactly say how such a turnaround happened so quickly.
“To be honest, I just don’t know,” he said.
“I just showed up, inspired these kids and gave them some confidence. They’ve been doing the work. They’ve been here every day, I’ve been here every day. I just gave them a winning mentality and the confidence and the will to win and 13 games later, we’re here.”
Perhaps it’s the “every day” mentality Woodridge lacked. Senior Mitch Hepburn, who scored two of the Bulldogs’ goals Tuesday night and assisted in the third, says they got to work the first day Rausch showed up and have kept it up.
“The coaches come to practice every day and we go hard every day,” Hepburn said. “We take no days off and it’s showing.”
All that stands between the 13-0 Bulldogs and perfection are St. Vincent St. Mary on Saturday morning and Rootstown next week. The Irish probably pose one of the biggest threats Woodridge has faced this season.
“We’ll just go at it like we do every other game — go there to win and see what happens,” Rausch said. “I’ve heard some stuff here and there [about St. V-M]. We have a real test on Saturday.”
Woodridge will enter that game on the heels of cruising past Waterloo (0-8-4) Tuesday night, when Woodridge officially clinched the Portage Trail Conference County Division title with its seventh league win of the year.
The Bulldogs struck early with two goals within two minutes midway through the first half. Hepburn corralled a pass at the edge of the box, dribbled once and placed it off the lower goal post and in. Hepburn then set up sophomore Matt Tannous with a hard cross for an easy goal seconds later.
Just before the half, Hepburn scored from 40 yards out on a shot that couldn’t have been placed any better, nestled just under the crossbar and inside the right goal post.
“The ball got played to my foot, I looked up and knew the keeper would be sleeping, [with the ball] 40 yards out,” he said. “I just let one go and it went in.”
Hepburn has 26 goals (two per game) and eight assists.
“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t know what to expect from the kid,” Rausch said. “The ball finds the net and he finds others. He just has a nose for the ball and attracts attention and it opens things up for us.”
The game also served as senior goalkeeper Daniel Arguelles’ ninth shutout of the year.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.