East Hamilton Wins First 5-AAA Soccer Title

Hurricanes Defeat Ooltewah 1-0 In District Final

Thursday, May 8, 2014 - by Jaime Barrett

The district is different, but the result was the same for the East Hamilton boys' soccer team Thursday night.

The Hurricanes, newcomers to 5-AAA this season, won a fourth straight district title at Ooltewah, and did it without ever sending a ball into the net.

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After an Ooltewah own goal in the 30th minute gave East Hamilton a 1-0 lead, the Hurricanes' defense helped turn the Owls' heartbreak into another title celebration for coach John Millard's team.

He credited forward Jack Fletcher with creating the pressure that led to the score, and keeper Taylor Vanzant and the Hurricanes' backs for preserving the 1-0 lead.

"We'll take it any way we can get it," Millard said. "I think that was really a product of hard work from Jack up top. If he's not pressuring that, then there's not the confusion. One goal changes the game, however it happens. Obviously we would not have been able to play the way we chose to play the rest of the way if we didn’t get that goal. As soon as we got it, I had faith in our backs and Taylor in goal to be able to defend well, stay organized, and make it really tough for them to find a chance."

The Owls won their regular-season meeting with East Hamilton by a 3-2 margin, and coach Rick Adolph said his team responded quickly after Thursday's mistake with just over 10 minutes left in the first half. But after the Hurricanes dropped back to focus on defense, offensive opportunities became hard for Ooltewah to come by.

"We played so well," Adolph said. "It's just a tough break. We've gone down a goal often this year, and we've bounced right back. But as soon as they scored, he dropped everyone back and made sure we didn't get behind them. That made it a little more difficult for us, but we still were creating some good chances. It just wasn't meant to be, but the guys played hard and did what I asked them to do."

It was the second consecutive intense road game for the East Hamilton team, which had grown accustomed to playing the postseason at home after five successful years in Class A/AA. The Hurricanes advanced with a 2-1 semifinal victory at Cleveland on Tuesday, and expected another challenge in the championship match.

"We knew that to come here and win would be really tough, particularly after such an emotional game at Cleveland," Millard said. "In five years, I don't know that we've gone on the road twice and won two games for a district title. I'm super impressed and proud of how they kept their composure, played hard and challenged every ball. When you do that, good things can happen."

The Owls continued battling throughout the second half, and their pressure paid off with several dangerous scoring chances in the final 10 minutes, but Vanzant made the saves to preserve the Hurricanes' shutout.

"I really thought we were going to get one," Adolph said. "We changed formations to try to get more pressure on their backs. We got through a couple of times but were just a little off. They really made it tight back there, but I thought our guys played smart enough to get through. It's a tough loss, but we know that we're playing again. If we can take care of business next week, then there's a good chance we can see them again."

The Owls (13-3-3) must travel to face District 6 champion Cookeville in the Region 3-AAA semifinals on Tuesday, while East Hamilton will host runner-up White County. The Hurricanes (9-7-2) will be trying for their first region title after moving up a division this year.

“It feels good,” Millard said. “It was a huge challenge for us. I've seen this team really grow up over the course of the season. We're very young, but I've seen guys step up and play well. I really feel like we've created a culture here that helps up be successful on the field, and I'm proud of them.”

(E-mail Jaime Barrett at jaimenbarrett@gmail.com)

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