Henry Clay scored five straight goals to fend off a physical Madison Central team 5-4 during the semifinals of the 11th Region Tournament on Thursday at Capitol View Park in Frankfort.
In the shadow of the Capitol building, Madison Central stunned the Henry Clay faithful at the onset of the match as the Indians scored three straight goals to open the semifinals.
The Indians, by far not the most polished team on the field, used a brand of aggressiveness that rattled a Blue Devils team that entered the game on a 15-game winning streak.
"To their credit they came out, worked hard, and outplayed us in the first 10-15 minutes," Henry Clay head coach Tim Bernardi said. "They were way more aggressive than us and really took it to us."
Never miss a local story.
After Joshua Strange's goal in the 18th minute opened things up for Henry Clay, the Blue Devils gathered themselves and began to play like the pre-tournament favorite to win Region 11.
They proceeded to score two more goals within a span of six minutes and nearly scored again with the clock ticking down in the first half.
"We had a chance to settle in and start working with or game plan," Bernardi said. "We've been down before, but we're a senior laden team. When you get down like that you have a bunch a seniors you want to persevere and win the game."
Once Henry Clay tied it at three, Bernardi knew the tide had turned.
"I was expecting us to battle back," he said.
The second half was the polar opposite of the first. Both teams locked down defensively and Madison Central had trouble breaching the back line of Henry Clay.
The Blue Devils' Nick Whitehouse gave Henry Clay its first lead of the game midway the second half and the Indians never threatened after.
Henry Clay's fifth goal of the night sealed the hat trick for Rose and the win for the Blue Devils.
Central notched another goal after a Henry Clay hand ball in the box with less than two minutes left, but it was down two goals with too little time remaining.
"You're going to have some bad games and some bad parts to games," Bernardi said. "It's finding ways to win in the postseason. You have to rise to the occasion and persevere."
Dunbar holds off Woodford Country
In stark contrast to the high-scoring game between Henry Clay and Madison Central, the evening game between Paul Laurence Dunbar and Woodford County showcased a low-scoring defensive match that saw Dunbar hold on 2-0.
With the win, Dunbar will face Henry Clay on Saturday for the 11th Region Tournament championship at Frankfort.
The Bulldogs scored just five minutes into the match on a goal from Ricky Clemente and stifled Woodford County for the remainder of the game.
The Yellow Jackets struggled to find any offensive rhythm, notching just one clean shot to Dunbar's four shots in the first half.
"They worked their tails off," Dunbar head coach Todd Bretz said about his defense. "They worked really hard, they tried to eliminate the space. Woodford Country was unable to get the through balls and get over top. We just fought hard."
Dunbar had a chance to increase its lead early in the second half, but Nathan Irving's shot from five feet out soared just above the goal. The opportunities continued for a Dunbar team that continuously assaulted the beleaguered defense of Woodford County. The Bulldogs, however, couldn't punch it in, which had less to do with the performance of the Yellowjackets goal keeper, but poor shots.
Clemente wrapped things up though, and essentially ended Woodford County's championship hopes after scoring his second goal of the night with less than a minute remaining in the match.
"He worked really hard," Bretz said of Clemente. "They were defending him very closely. They have some really good defenders."
Dunbar will soak in the victory tonight, but it knows that the challenge against Henry Clay on Saturday will be tough.
"We're going to have to play our absolute best," Bretz said. "And hope for some divine intervention."
HENRY CLAY 5, MADISON CENTRAL 4
11th Region semifinal at Frankfort
G — MC: Netherton (32'), Kipchumba (27', 18'), Dotson (39' PK). HC: Strange (18'), Rose (8', 18', 73'), Whitehouse (64').
Records: Madison Central 18-4-1, Henry Clay 19-2-1
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR 2, WOODFORD COUNTY 0
11th Region semifinal at Frankfort
G—PLD: Clemente (35', 79').
Records: Paul Laurence Dunbar 18-6-1, Woodford County 16-5-1