For a time, Class A Oneida battled Class AAA power Knox Central toe-to-toe at Jane Terry Hoffman Field on Thursday.
The wheels came off late in the first half of a 4-1 loss for the Indians, but the loss to a non-district opponent in the final match of the regular season was the least of Oneida’s concerns. The Indians lost senior forward Danner Keeton to a knee injury, placing his status in doubt for the postseason.
Oneida jumped on the Bobcats in the first half, when Keeton scored on an assist from junior Gabe Hacker just four minutes into the game to give his team a 1-0 lead. The Indians had an opportunity to make it worse after a clip was called in the box and set up a penalty kick, but a rare miss left Oneida clinging to a 1-0 lead, and Central answered with a goal minutes later to make it 1-1.
Central scored again to make it 2-1 before Keeton exited the game with a right knee injury with about 20 minutes to play in the half.
“From there on out the team was mentally affected by his injury and gave up two more goals to a very good, high-quality team,” Oneida coach Derek Keeton said.
Down 4-1 at halftime, “We all admitted we lost some energy in the first half and needed to come together and play aggressive, especially defensively,” Keeton said. “Man, they played great.”
Central never let up, but was unable to generate another score with its first team.
“Guys like Luke White, Chase Rushing, Rylan Duncan, Matt Brown and Gavin Keeton stepped up defensively and played extremely well in the second half,” Keeton said. “Aiden Love and Noah James played well from the stopper position. Coach (Phil) Newport has really worked hard with our defense on communication and knowing assignments and it showed in the second half.”
The Indians are overwhelming favorites to win District 3-A, and enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed. They were also expected to be in the driver’s seat for a region championship.
The road to a home substate game will change if Keeton is unable to return. His coach and father said he was “very concerned” based on what he saw from the injury. Keeton is Oneida’s all-time leading scorer despite playing less than two seasons. He missed his sophomore season with a left knee injury.
Newport said the cut that took Keeton out was not a clean play, but was not whistled as a foul.
“It took the wind out of our sails in more ways than one,” Newport said. “I think the stats reflect that. The defense battled better in the second half but we became less dangerous without our finisher.”
Going forward, the Indians will rely more up-front on the junior Hacker, who has had a spectacular season in his own right and appears to be on pace to set Oneida’s all-time assists record. They’ll also rely on a pair of freshmen in Mason Keeton and Nick Gilbert, among others.
“The road is a little tougher now, but I am excited to see how our team responds next week during the district tournament,” Keeton said. “They responded great to some adversity tonight.”