Tates Creek has floated under the radar most of the season. But Tuesday night in the 13th Region semifinals, the Commodores showed that they can play with the best of them by topping No. 18 Franklin County 5-3 at Henry Clay.
"We're definitely a big secret to this state," Zack Whaley said. "It doesn't show it on the rankings, but we have some talent on this team and we're excited about these opportunities where we can really show it."
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They will have another chance to show it Thursday in the region championship against fourth-ranked Henry Clay, a 4-1 winner over Anderson County in the other semifinal.
Tates Creek dominated early, scoring twice in the first nine minutes, first on a Hayato Yoshida slam off of a cross from Shuto Yoshida.
A shove in the box equaled a Whaley penalty kick two minutes later to give the Commodores a 3-0 lead at halftime
Joey Morton added a fourth goal for Creek early in the second half.
"Anytime you can get off and get your nerves calmed a bit, it helps in a match," Coach Bo Lankster said. "Sometimes it can be the kiss of death if you get an early goal, but when we followed it up with a second and third goal, it allowed us to relax a little bit."
The Dores may have relaxed a little bit too much and the Flyers' Bryce Burton made them pay with a goal 10 minutes later.
A Matt Williams goal with 7:25 left in the game gave Creek a more comfortable lead, but Burton wasn't done yet. The junior scored two more goals in the game's final six minutes to put a mild scare into Tates Creek.
"There was a little panic," Whaley said. "But in the end, we still had confidence in our defense and we still pulled through."
The Creek senior said allowing Franklin County to come back like that teaches the Commodores a valuable lesson going forward.
"It shows us that when we get a big lead we can't get too comfortable," Whaley said. "We have to keep the pace up to finish with a win."
The coach hopes his team can take that lesson into its third straight region title game. The Commodores have had their season end there two consecutive seasons.
The Devils have faced Creek twice already this season, first playing to a 1-1 draw in the regular season, then Henry Clay needed double overtime to win 2-1 in the district championship.
Henry Clay 4, Anderson County 1: The defending region champion Devils won their sixth straight in convincing fashion, but they had one of their top playmakers injured early.
Senior Philip Mabika, the Devils' leading scorer with 16 goals this season, was carted off the field midway through the first half after a head-on collision with Bearcats keeper Brian Fleck.
Bernardi was not clear on the full extent of Mabika's injuries. Fleck also left the game a few minutes later.
When Mabika went down, Henry Clay had a 1-0 lead thanks to an Aaron Oppegard goal, but that was as big as the Devils' lead would get in the first half.
"We did what we wanted to do," Bernardi said. "They clicked early, but losing one of our players hurt. It took us awhile to regroup and get focused and back on track.
"We talked about it halftime to show some character and some heart and stay on track."
Bruce Price got Henry Clay back on that proverbial track, scoring twice in the second half. Phillip Manga added an insurance goal to make it 3-0 five minutes into the second half.
Seth Beasley helped the Bearcats avoid the shutout with his goal with 12 minutes remaining in the game.
Tates Creek 5, Franklin Co. 3
Goals—TC: Hayato Yoshida, Zack Whaley 2, Joey Morton, Matt Williams; FC: Bryce Burton . Goalkeepers—TC: Lee Kimbrell; FC: Tyler Pewitt.
Records—Tates Creek 11-7-4, Franklin Co. 16-7.
Henry Clay 4, Anderson Co. 1
Goals—HC: Aaron Oppegard, Bruce Price 2, Phillip Manga; AC: Seth Beasley. Goalkeepers—AC: Brian Fleck, Drew Bamberger; HC: Miguel Andrade, Kyler Brooks.
Records—Anderson Co. 12-5-4, Henry Clay 17-3-2.