Hard, but not impossible.
Trigg County earned its third straight 2010 victory over Caldwell County with a 3-2 win that earned the Wildcats the 4th District Tournament Championship at Dawson Springs.
Then, Trigg earned its way into the 2nd Region Tournament Championship with a 2-1 win Monday over Christian County. The ‘Cats, who host the tournament at the Trigg County Recreation Complex, will play Hopkinsville at 7 p.m. Wednesday for the region crown.
“Caldwell played extremely well,” Trigg head coach Josh Nichols said. “It’s one of those games where it’s a shame someone has to lose, but thank God it wasn’t us.”
Against Caldwell, Colten Bridges scored on an assist from Aaron Yielding less than two minutes in and another on an assist from Joel Ben Thomas with less than 10 to go, and the Tigers quickly answered both times.
Then, after two 10-minute and two five-minute overtime periods went scoreless, the game was decided in a penalty-kick shootout.
Trigg finished with 24 shots and might have ended the game earlier after a pair of calls were not whistled that could have resulted in penalty kicks for the ‘Cats.
“It was one of those nights where it felt like the ball was never going to go in,” Nichols said. “We had a couple of tough breaks in the box, but that’s the way it goes. The kids pulled it out and showed a lot of heart.”
The teams were still tied after five PK tries apiece. Yielding, Bridges, Blaine Alexander and Jared Stallons hit their chances for Trigg.
Next was sudden death. Trigg connected on its first two tries by Romaine Cunningham and Clark Adams, and Caldwell hit on its first. But needing a goal to continue the contest, Caldwell’s Clint Joiner watched as his attempt was stopped by Wildcat goalkeeper Kevin Latham.
Trigg’s keeper, who finished the contest with 10 saves, said he did his best to stay focused throughout the contest and during the shootout.
“It’s all about heart,” Latham said. “You can’t do anything without your team behind you and without knowing that you can do it.”
Trigg needed Latham’s focus and skill in key moments Monday against Christian County. Stallons scored in the fourth minute on an assist by Bridges and again 15 minutes later on an assist by Yielding.
Two minutes after Trigg went ahead 2-0, the Colonels generated the best of their first-half scoring chances. On a corner kick, Latham came out of his goal to punch the ball away and had to scramble back to make a falling swat at the rebound attempt.
The Colonels finally got on the board with 10 minutes left in regulation, but Latham finished with 13 stops and, thanks to Trigg’s defense, was not challenged in the final minutes. Trigg finished with 12 shots on the night.
Latham’s highlight-reel save and an odd play on Trigg’s second goal served as the key moments of the contest. Seconds after Yielding banged a free kick off the crossbar, he regained control of the ball in the middle of the field. He sent a high-arcing kick toward the goal, and the ball bounced over Christian County’s keeper, bounced up and hit the crossbar. Stallons was there to finish the play.
“The way things were going at the time, we never would have thought that those two plays would end up being so big, but they definitely were,” Nichols said. “I never really felt like we got things going tonight. The effort was there and we did some nice things, but we never sustained possession.”
While Trigg has shown ability to win games without playing its best, Nichols said now is the time for the ‘Cats to put its best game on the field.
“I’d rather play well, but I guess there is something to be said for not playing well and still winning a region semifinal,” Nichols said. “At the same time, we want to pick it up and play as well as we can.”
Trigg defeated Hoptown 2-0 on Sept. 28 at the Complex, and the Tigers tied Caldwell 1-1 in their next contest. Since then, they’ve won four straight and outscored their opponents 22-1.
“Hopefully, the event will bring out the best in us,” Nichols said. “Hoptown brought out a good game in us last time, and hopefully they’ll do it again, but we don’t want to rely on the other team. We want to play the best we can. Hopefully, we’ve got one saved up.”
Nichols said Wednesday’s game is likely the biggest in the history of the boys soccer program at Trigg.
“We won’t talk about that much,” Nichols said. “We’ll reflect on it later, but it’s a big night for us and a big opportunity, and hopefully we’ll take advantage of it.”
The winner Wednesday will host next week’s Sub-section 2 game against the winner of the 3rd Region Tournament, and the winner of that contest will host the 1st Section game against the Sub-section 1 winner (1st Region vs. 4th Region). The state semifinals and finals are held at Georgetown College.
To advance to the district final, Trigg defeated host Dawson Springs 5-0 on Thursday.
Stallons scored all five goals, and Thomas, Bridges and Romaine Cunningham had assists. Latham finished with seven saves, and the ‘Cats had 28 shots.
Extra time: Against Caldwell, Trigg had to survive portions of the contest without a pair of starters who were battling injury.
Senior defender Ethan Sweno strained a hamstring in Trigg’s 5-0 district semifinal win over Dawson Springs on Thursday. He played with the injury Friday but had to come off the field on two occasions. Thomas also missed some time late in the game with leg cramps.
The injuries opened the door for a pair of freshmen to play an important role for the ‘Cats. Clarke Boyd filled in for Sweno, and Dossett came in for Thomas.
“Brien played a lot when Blaine was out earlier this season, started on the wing for us and did a really good job,” Nichols said. “Clarke is going to be an exceptional player as the years go on. He had to grow up a little quick this year, but he did a really good job filling in.”