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Last season, the Webster Groves boys soccer team lost six matches in a row heading into the playoffs, then caught fire to finish as state runner-up.

After injuries slowed down the Statesmen this season, they entered the postseason with a simple mantra.

“We’re made for November,” Webster Groves coach Tim Velten said.

Ben Winkelmann and Owen Culver scored, and Chris Campbell led a defense that gave up few scoring chances as Webster Groves defeated St. Mary’s 2-0 to win the Class 3 District 3 championship on Thursday at St. Mary's.

Webster Groves (18-6) won its sixth successive match, scoring at least two goals in each contest.

The Statesmen advanced to face Ladue (14-12-1) in a sectional Tuesday. 

Both teams began the match with great pace. Twice in the first eight minutes, Webster Groves senior Owen Culver carried the ball up the left sideline and sent dangerous crosses that barely eluded the foot of a teammate.

St. Mary’s (14-8-1) used the dangerous throw-ins of junior Keith Polette to put Webster Groves on the defensive. Three times in the opening minutes, Polette launched the ball near a crowded goal area that Statesmen defenders deftly sent out of danger.

“Everyone stays tight on their man, follows their man and never lets up until the ball is out and it’s safe,” Campbell said.

In the 13th minute, Polette showed he could also use his feet by outracing two defenders and ripping a shot that drifted just wide of the goal. It was one of the few Dragons’ shot opportunities that was not blocked by a Webster Groves defender.

The Statesmen finally tried the right side of the Dragons defense midway through the half and it immediately paid dividends. Senior Henry Bante crossed a pass to Winkelmann, who used his 6-foot-2 frame to head the ball past St. Mary’s senior keeper Chris Zundel for a 1-0 lead.

“The ball was bouncing around and Henry came out of nowhere and took it down the line,” Winkelmann said. “I just started screaming for it, (Bante) gave me perfect ball and I just flicked it on.”

The best scoring chance for St. Mary’s came off an indirect kick that was redirected towards an open goal by Dragons senior Josh Andrews, but Campbell was waiting on the goal line as the last line of defense to calmly head it away and keep the Dragons off the scoreboard.

“Coach always emphasizes to keep a guy on the back post because the keeper can’t really guard that, so I just had to get it out when it got there,” Campbell said.

The Statesmen began to impose their will late in the first half, using the whole field and generating excellent chances. Within a minute of each other, Culver sent a sneaky shot through traffic and Winkelmann got loose on a breakaway. But Zundel denied both chances.

“We got stuck down the left side. That was one thing we tried to change throughout the game was mixing it up and playing down both sides,” Culver said. “I think that’s what opened up the game for us.”

In the opening minute of the second half, Webster Groves junior Jon Campbell drew a foul and then discussed with Culver what to do on the ensuing free kick. From 25 yards away, Campbell ran past the ball, then watched as Culver rocketed a beautiful bender that landed just inside the far post for a 2-0 advantage.

“We try to figure out what would be best and (Campbell) said I should have it, so I had it and it went in,” Culver said.

Culver, who missed several weeks of the season due to a back injury, nearly duplicated his feat later in the half, pinging a 30-yard free kick off the crossbar.

St. Mary’s, which finished the year with its first winning season since 2014, kept battling until the final buzzer, earning two great chances in the final three minutes.

First, senior Jeff Strobl collected a rebound and ripped a shot inches over the crossbar. Then, on the Dragons’ first corner kick of the match, Statesman goalie Preston Haney was forced to serpentine through bodies to find the ball, earning his fifth solo shutout of the season.

But for most of the night, the Statesmen were quick, sharp and highly-organized. In other words, they were in November form.

“It always starts to connect late in the season,” Culver said. “As coach always says, we’re a November team.”

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