Looking across the Cardinal Stadium sideline Sunday evening at host Nelson County High School, it was hard to determine who won the Boys’ 5th Region Soccer Tournament’s late quarterfinal.
The winning team, eight-time defending 19th District Tournament champion Bardstown Bethlehem, looked like it had lost and the losing team, the 18th District runner-up LaRue County Hawks, was smiling and beaming and holding its head high.
It was the first year the Hawks played in the Region Tournament in the program’s six-year history.
After giving the victorious Eagles all they could handle before eventually falling, 2-1, prolific senior scorer Alex Cook said his defeated Hawks more than held their own in their region debut.
In fact, they put “LaRue County soccer on the map.”
“We played our hearts out and we left it all out there on that field,” Cook said. “None of us wanted that to be our last game.”
And for a while, it was looking like it might not be.
Playing through a wind that even Winnie the Pooh would have to admit was blustery and struggling to figure out LaRue County’s centralized pack-it-in defense, the Eagles (15-5-1) grew frustrated against the Hawks (15-6). At halftime, Bethlehem had nothing to show for its troubles.
“The wind had a little to do with it, but I think they had a lot to do with it,” veteran Bethlehem coach Tim Hurst said while pointing toward LaRue County’s sideline. “They played extremely well and had a great game plan. They knew what we liked to do and they did a good job of taking us out of our game plan.”
Keep in mind this was a LaRue County team which gave up three goals in the district final to a Marion County team that Fort Knox, John Hardin, North Hardin and Elizabethtown all held to two goals or less. And a LaRue County team that was playing without two starters who were red carded in the district final. And a LaRue County team that had been outscored 33-0 in its previous six all-time meetings – all losses – with Bethlehem.
“Going into the game, the boys were determined to make it a good game,” said coach Chuck Holloway, who founded the Hawks’ program. “They said that. They proved that. And they showed that.”
The Hawks played even with the Eagles for 47:08, including the first 45:05 before Bethlehem senior Ben Rossoll dribbled through LaRue County’s 18-yard box and finally got one past LaRue County sophomore goalkeeper Holden Blair, who had nine saves.
“We were getting very frustrated,” Rossoll said. “They kept their shape well and they kept their composure. They made it difficult to find any holes in their defense.”
Instead of laying down because their rock-solid defense had finally been broken, Rossoll said the Hawks shocked the Eagles by going on the attack and becoming the aggressors.
“After our first goal, they got more energy and they took it to us for a while,” Rossoll said. “I think we lost our focus and thought that one goal would be good enough. And as they showed, it definitely was not.”
One goal wasn’t going to be enough with Cook on the field.
He tucked away his 56th goal of the season and 81st of his career with 13:12 left in the match after he was headed the ball by senior Mason Morgan, who notched his ninth assist of the season.
“He’s a good player and the types of flicks he used showed that,” Rossoll said of Cook, who led the state with a 2.94 goals-per-game average and was second in the regular season to Hopkinsville’s Austin Bucko in total goals. “He showed he’s not just a level-of-competition type of player, because he can do it against anyone at any time.”
Cook said the secret to the Hawks’ success was easy – effort.
“We played with heart all game and didn’t back down from any challenge,” he said. “We went up for every header and chased down every 50-50 ball. We did all the little things.”
Bethlehem advanced to Tuesday’s late semifinal at 8 p.m. against the 17th District champion North Hardin Trojans (16-6), who received a bye during Friday’s draw.
The district final loss to Marion County and the region quarterfinal loss to Bethlehem marks the only time this year the Hawks suffered consecutive defeats. But Cook said they can’t overshadow the Hawks’ season as a whole.
“This has been the best year in LaRue County soccer history,” said Cook, who earned All-Tournament Team honors along with senior midfielder Marshall Metcalf, who shattered the LaRue County school record with 42 single-season assists. “Point blank.”
The Hawks were district runners-up to the Marion County Knights, losing in the championship round, 3-1.
Cook scored twice in the teams’ regular-season meeting and had the Hawks’ goal Thursday night, but the Knights had built a 3-0 lead before he found the back of the net with four minutes left in the first half. Metcalf had the assist.
Blair had two saves.
Cook, Metcalf and junior midfielder Jacob Hurt were named to the All-Tournament Team.
To reach the district final, the Hawks first played and defeated the third-seeded Campbellsville Eagles, 7-0, on Oct. 9.
Cook had five goals and one assist and Metcalf had one goal and two assists.
Senior Ricardo Collado added two assists for the Hawks, while senior Mason Morgan had one goal and one assist and Hurt had one assist.
Blair didn’t have to make a save as the Hawks outshot the Eagles, 23-2.