Two first-half goals weren’t enough to put East Ridge at ease in Tuesday’s Region 3-A/AA boys’ soccer semifinal match at Boyd-Buchanan.
But those early scores proved to be all the Pioneers needed to reach the region championship match for the first time since 2009.
The District 6 runners-up went on the road to face the 5-A/AA champion Bucs, and held on for a 2-0 victory that guarantees East Ridge a spot in Thursday’s region final as well as Saturday’s Class A/AA state sectionals.
“The problem with the early lead is that all the pressure is on you to try to keep that lead,” Pioneers’ coach Jeremy McIntyre said. “Sometimes it’s more scary to be up 2-0, because you feel like you’re safe, but you’re not. I told the guys at halftime that we couldn’t let them get a goal back, because then they would feel like they were right back in it.”
The two teams had tied 1-1 during the regular season, when East Ridge had to play without injured junior forward Kolbe King. On Tuesday, King made his presence felt when he played a through ball over the head of Bucs keeper Austin Walker midway through the first half.
About 15 minutes later, Alex Martinez’s goal gave the Pioneers a 2-0 lead that their defense would hold the rest of the way.
“We just wanted it,” McIntyre said. “They went in hard. My guys just give it everything they’ve got, all the time. I just love them. They’re workers. Even at the end of that game, when Boyd-Buchanan definitely had the momentum and was pressing, we just had to go play defense, and they never gave up.”
Bucs’ coach Dustin Walker agreed that the Pioneers were the hardest working team in the first half, but Boyd-Buchanan responded in the second period. The Bucs created several dangerous scoring opportunities, including one off the crossbar, but couldn’t put any in the net.
“All the credit goes to East Ridge,” Walker said. “They came out harder than we did. In the first half, they just wanted it more. It was almost like our team didn’t realize the situation we were in until halftime. I think it just hadn’t clicked that this was a win-or-go-home game. But I was proud of the guys’ energy in the second half. We played hard, and started winning balls and creating opportunities. I think if one of them goes in, it changes the whole ballgame, but we just couldn’t finish.”
The Bucs , who were playing with just one senior starter, ended their season at 10-5-1. The Pioneers improve to 13-2-2, with both losses coming at the hands of District 6 champion East Hamilton. East Ridge will face the Hurricanes for a third time Thursday in the 5 p.m. region final. Both region finalists will play in the sectionals on Saturday with a state-tournament berth on the line.
“This means everything to them,” McIntyre said. “From the preseason on, they’ve worked so hard and wanted it so bad. They didn’t want to stop playing. A region championship sounds great. It’s going to be tough, but we’ve just got to keep going. We’re going to go give it 100-percent and see what happens.”
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org)