For the second time in three years, Oneida will play for a region championship.
The Indians are one win away from the program’s first-ever state tournament appearance, after defeating Sweetwater 4-0 in Tuesday’s Region 2-A semifinals.
Junior Gabe Hacker scored two goals, while sophomore Sam Bell and freshman Mason Keeton each added a goal. The Indians jumped to a 3-0 goal before the half, with Hacker scoring both of his goals and Keeton adding his goal. Bell scored the only goal of the second half.
But the real story of the game was Oneida’s defense. Freshman keeper Gavin Keeton had 13 saves, and the Indians were strong across the back throughout the match, running their streak of consecutive shutouts to three. Oneida hasn’t given up a goal since a loss to Knox Central and is unscored-upon in the postseason.
“Our defense set the tone,” Oneida head coach Derek Keeton said. “Chase Rushing, Luke White, Gavin Keeton, Rylin Duncan and Matthew Brown played outstanding tonight.
“I keep saying it, (but) Coach (Phil) Newport has done an incredible job with these young men,” Keeton added of his defense.
Upfront, Keeton credited freshman Nick Gilbert, in addition to Hacker and Mason Keeton, with helping the Indians create some separation. Hacker assisted Keeton’s goal, while Gilbert and Keeton assisted Hacker’s goals.
The second half saw Bell score off an assist from Aidan Love to seal the win.
“It is a complete team victory,” Keeton said. “Our depth for a Single A program is very good and has carried us all year long with the many different injuries we have sustained from several players. Tonight, we just kept running players at them until they finally wilted under pressure late in the first half.”
Of all the injuries the Indians have sustained, there was none bigger than the loss of Danner Keeton in the regular season finale against Knox Central. Keeton, who missed his sophomore season with a knee injury, blew out his other knee in the first half of that game. He was easily Oneida’s leading scorer, and has set the school’s single-season record for goals, as well as a career record for goals despite missing both his sophomore and junior seasons.
But since halftime of that game against Central, the Indians haven’t given up a goal as the defense has risen to the occasion to help propel Oneida to the region championship game.
“After Danner’s injury our defense has more than picked up the slack,” Keeton said. “They are playing lights out.”
Oneida will face Greenback in the region championship game on Thursday. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Jane Terry Hoffman Field, and the Indians’ baseball team — which won the District 3-A championship — will be recognized at halftime.
Greenback advanced to the region championship game by defeating Rockwood 5-1 on Monday. The Indians defeated Rockwood 5-0 in the district championship game last week.
While Thursday’s game is not an elimination game, the winner will get to host a substate game, against either Austin-East or Gatlinburg-Pittman. The Roadrunners defeated Chuckey-Doak by a 5-1 score on Monday, while the Highlanders defeated University High 3-1. Both of those teams are state championship-caliber teams, and earning the home field advantage for Saturday’s substate game will be crucial.