MONMOUTH — The play did just what the Monmouth boys soccer team hoped it would. Just not in the way the Mustangs expected.

A little under 31 minutes remained in the first half of the Class C South final when Hunter Richardson heaved the ball in play from the sideline, Travis Hartford got in front of the Lisbon keeper to provide the screen, then leapt to make a play on the ball.

He missed. It didn’t matter. The ball sailed through, hit off a Greyhounds defender and went in for an own goal — the only score top-seeded Monmouth needed for a 1-0 victory over No. 3 Lisbon and a regional championship one year after coming oh-so-close.

“We’ve worked real hard to get to this point, but it’s still emotional,” said Monmouth coach Joe Fletcher, whose team improved to 14-1-2. “We expected to be here, but to win it is challenging. And Lisbon certainly presented a lot of concerns for us.”

The victory was made sweeter by the way last year ended — at this same stage, but on the other end of a 4-0 drubbing by Waynflete. It was clear that that defeat was still on the Mustangs’ minds as they approached their chance to redeem it.

“Last year we got beat soundly by Waynflete, and it was a new experience for us. We didn’t know what to expect,” Fletcher said. “Were they four goals better than us? I don’t think so, but we weren’t prepared mentally.”

That wasn’t a problem Wednesday. Monmouth got an opportunity when it was awarded a throw-in in the 10th minute of the first half. Teams often just settle for possession with those plays, but the Mustangs favor a more aggressive approach when they’re close enough, throwing the ball toward the net and using the 6-foot-2 Hartford to cause traffic and create loose-ball chances.

“It’s a designed play just to cause chaos inside the box,” Fletcher said. “There’s no specific play other than Travis causing a visual problem for the goalie and making him come out around him. This is a narrow field and we have two players who can throw to the far post. We like to take advantage of it.”

The commotion paid off. Richardson’s throw sailed in but flew high, and Hartford tried to head the ball and missed. But the screen prevented Lisbon (10-4-3) keeper Jonah Sautter (eight saves) from seeing the ball and making a play on it, and it was on Greyhound defender Nick Lerette before he had a chance to prepare for it. His rushed clearing attempt instead put it in the net, making it 1-0 Monmouth with 30:31 to play in the half.

“I think he was trying to hit it out, and it was just misplayed,” Hartford said. “It’s hard to read when you can’t see it all the way.”

Richardson wasn’t surprised to see it work. It’s already happened several times before.

“We’ve been doing it all season, throw it (to the) post and have our guys rush the goalie,” he said. “That’s happened three times for us, where the throw-in’s actually gone in. If it’s working, we’ll keep doing it.”

There was no official scorer for Monmouth, but the Mustangs didn’t care. Not if it still meant a lead on the scoreboard.

“It was huge,” Hartford said. “It allowed us to focus mostly on defense, and that way we didn’t have as much pressure on our offense.”

That was the highlight through an otherwise slowly-paced first half, as both teams tried to poke and prod at the other’s strategy and get a sense for how to attack. The second half was a different story, with the Mustangs and Greyhounds both upping the intensity looking for either the equalizer or some insurance.

“It was kind of like a boxing match. We were feeling each other out in the first half,” Fletcher said. “Then they changed their formation in the second half, started to attack a little bit, and we kind of weathered that. And we generated all kinds of chances.”

Both sides had their opportunities. Monmouth’s Bradley Neal dove for one of his five saves in the 53rd minute. Teammate Avery Pomerleau had a good chance up close but fired high in the 54th. Neal went to the ground after a save in the 64th minute, but Lisbon couldn’t follow up. Pomerleau had another try from up front that was knocked away in the 69th.

Ultimately, defense prevailed, with Monmouth keeping Lisbon from finding the goal it needed.

“I thought we played very well in the second half. We threw what we could at them in the second half,” Lisbon coach Dan Sylvester said. “It wasn’t enough to get the job done.”

Monmouth this time found just enough, capping off a trip to the top after previous attempts fell just short.

“Coach has been trying to build this program for years, and this was the year that finally came,” Richardson said. “We had expectations this year, go undefeated, win the MVC and make it to states. We managed two of those. We’re going to states and we’re very excited.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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