HEADSTART: Hanover’s Alex Hanke (below, 9) heads the ball past Franklin defender Blake Bowers during Wednesday’s match at home. Hanke, a sophomore from Evansville, scored a goal in the Panthers’ 3-2 win. Franklin’s Drew Hutchens goes airborne (above) while trying to get the ball away from Hanover’s Drew Roberts (11) as Grizzlie defenders Immanuel Jones (far left) and Antonio Gloe close in. Hanover set a school record for wins with its 10th victory and can clinch the Heartland Conference title on Saturday. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
HEADSTART: Hanover’s Alex Hanke (below, 9) heads the ball past Franklin defender Blake Bowers during Wednesday’s match at home. Hanke, a sophomore from Evansville, scored a goal in the Panthers’ 3-2 win. Franklin’s Drew Hutchens goes airborne (above) while trying to get the ball away from Hanover’s Drew Roberts (11) as Grizzlie defenders Immanuel Jones (far left) and Antonio Gloe close in. Hanover set a school record for wins with its 10th victory and can clinch the Heartland Conference title on Saturday. (Staff photos by David Campbell)
The play was as sloppy as the field but in the end Hanover prevailed 3-2 over rival Franklin in men's soccer at home on Wednesday.

The victory was the 10th of the season for Hanover, a school record for wins in men's soccer. But more importantly it kept the Panthers in the running for not only a home game in next week's Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament, but maybe the No. 1 seed overall.

"Today was crazy. Two games left and we could have finished anywhere from first to fifth which is nuts," Hanover coach Matt Wilkerson said. "But now we've clinched a spot in the tournament and 10 wins is awesome. That's a credit to these kids. They set some goals and they're very purposeful and they've worked hard to achieve them. It's an exciting day and it's good to know we're walking off the field in the tournament."

A steady rain overnight turned the L.S. Ayres Field into a sloppy mess in some places and as a result, the level of play suffered some. It also led to short tempers and as the game wore on, the physical play mounted and a total of five yellow cards were issued in the match.

It didn't appear that it would be much of a game after Hanover (10-6-2, 6-1-1 HCAC) scored three times in the first half.

The first marker came just 12 minutes into the match when freshman Austin Bush redirected a deflected shot by fellow freshman Matthew Eldridge for his fourth goal of the season.

Nine minutes later Hanover scored again when John Wittich headed in a cross from Austin to make it 2-0.

The Panthers went ahead 3-0 in the 28th minute when junior defender Drew Servais lofted a ball from outside the 18-yard box that Alex Hanke nudged inside the far post from point-blank range.

The lead remained 3-0 throughout most of the second half before Franklin (4-10-2, 2-6 HCAC) scored twice late to put some pressure on the Panthers.

The Grizzlies' first goal was a gift when Zachary Shoufler's high shot from 25 yards out was deflected into the goal by a Hanover defender in the 70th minute.

Shoufler struck again in the 87th minute when he lofted a shot over the hands of junior goalie Trevor Korfhagen from beyond the 18-yard box.

Hanover slowed the game down over the final three minutes and Franklin was unable to mount a serious challenge and the Panthers escaped with the one-goal win.

"We have really, really tough kids and we've won in a bunch of different ways this year and a bunch of different conditions," Wilkerson said. "Obviously the conditions were a factor. We were playing for quite a bit and it's a pretty emotional game between Franklin and here. We finished with one more goal than them and everybody's happy with that."

Hanover had 24 shots, while Franklin fired seven. The Panthers earned a 4-2 edge in corner kicks.

The squads combined for 33 fouls, including five yellow cards. Most of the fouls were a result of rough play.

"We got out of out rhythm a little bit. I thought in the first half we were class and we played real well. We did a lot of things we wanted to do," Wilkerson said. "In the second half, (Franklin) took us out of our rhythm a little bit and it took us a while to adjust to what they were trying to do."

Hanover had previously posted nine wins in a season two times. The Panthers finished 9-7-1 overall in 2001 and were 9-9-1 in 2002.

The win also improved Hanover to 6-1-1 in the HCAC, eclipsing the program's previous high for league games. The Panthers notched five league wins in 2006 (5-2-1), 2008 (5-3) and 2009 (5-3).

Hanover can lock up its first Heartland Conference regular-season title with a victory in the season-finale against Defiance (Ohio) on Saturday. Getting a chance to play the tourney at home would be huge according to Wilkerson.

"I love playing here at home. We'll play anybody anywhere but for some reason, teams don't like coming here and that's part of the home field advantage and that's OK with me," Wilkerson said. "Hopefully we'll get a lot of fans out because it's been a long time since we've been at home. Hopefully, we'll play them all here."