VERMILION — There was reason to celebrate on both sides Saturday night.
Amherst junior Caleb Stempowski celebrated his birthday by scoring two goals while Vermilion’s Isaac Lindo celebrated his third-place finish at the Sandusky Bay Conference cross country championship meet by equaling Stempowski’s feat with two goals of his own as the two longtime rivals finished in a 3-3 tie in non-conference play. It’s the second year in a row the schools tied to finish the regular season. Last year, neither side scored.
“The ball was skipping in and I got the back post,” said Stempowski in describing the goal that tied the game with less than four minutes left. “I placed it in and the defender hit it and I got the goal after that. It was really nice.”
Amherst (8-5-3) grabbed a 2-0 halftime advantage as Stempowski drilled his first goal with just 29 seconds left off a pass from junior Carter Hancock, but the Comets couldn’t make it stand. The Comets broke the ice when Bradley Kirsch centered a pass to Ethan London for the first goal of the night with 10:02 left in the first half.
Vermilion (13-1-1) bounced right back in the second half. Lindo scored twice from the right side of the goal — the final one from a good distance that beat Amherst’s goalkeeper Brandon Hazelgrove.
“My legs hurt but I’m pretty awake,” Lindo said. “There was a lot of emotions from them scoring (late in the half) and having our heads down. We kind of got right back at it and fired back in the second half. I wasn’t thinking. No one was in front of me. I just shot.”
A couple minutes after Lindo’s second goal, the Sailors took a short-lived lead off the skillful foot of junior Logan Penton, who lined one off Hazelgrove’s hands with 13:34 left in the match.
“When you’re playing a team like Amherst, they’re a very good team,” Vermilion coach Kurt Innes said. “I thought we had a good second half. We got ourselves back into it. I told the kids it was a little bit of a learning moment there when you’re up 3-2 with under five minutes left. We don’t need to send the house forward. We need to slow the game down a little bit and allow us to recover. If we do lose a ball, at least we have numbers behind it now.”
Stempowski wasn’t about to have that ruin his birthday party. Off a corner kick scramble in front of the goal, he booted the ball past Vermilion’s defender and into the net with just 3:40 to play to tie the game. Gavin Velazquez just missed as the clock wound down and Ben Biedenbach’s last-ditch attempt came after the clock expired.
“After falling down by a goal, the boys definitely woke up a little bit,” Amherst coach Drew Biedenbach said. “Finally just started playing the ball to feet and moving the ball. That made the difference. Throw maybe one more second on the clock, we probably have that last goal. Proud of the way they fought.”
“We’re not really happy with a tie but it’s better than a loss,” said Stempowski. “It would have been a win with another 10 seconds but it wasn’t with us.”
Innes was happy to see his team withstand the last-ditch effort by the Comets.
“It’s things that we practice on,” he said. “Knowing what your responsibility is at that moment. Everybody communicating and withstanding the bombardment sometimes, one after the other. I thought our goalie (Ryan Habermehl) did a nice job of commanding the box. I thought we stayed pretty tight to our march for the most part.”
Hazelgrove may not think so but he did a tremendous job in the goal for Amherst. He made several great saves – two diving – in keeping Amherst in the game.
“He had some great saves,” Biedenbach said. “Definitely great one-on-one saves. That one, I wish maybe he’d have come up and just picked it up at the top of the box. It wouldn’t have happened. He’s a great shot stopper. I just wanted him to command his box a little bit more.”
Amherst 3, Vermilion 3
Goals: A—Ethan London (Assist—Bradley Kirsch), 39:58 first half, A—Caleb Stempowski (Assist—Carter Hancock), 39:31 first half, V—Isaac Lindo, 6:02 second half, V—Lindo, 12:20 second half, V—Logan Penton, 26:26 second half, A—Stempowski 36:20 second half.
Shots: Amherst 24, Vermilion 17.
Saves: Brandon Hazelgrove (A) 9, Ryan Habermehl (V) 13.
Corner Kicks: Amherst 8, Vermilion 1.
Penalty Kicks: Amherst 4, Vermilion 4.
Yellow Cards: Amherst 2, Vermilion 1.
Halftime: Amherst 2-0.