November 3rd, 2011
Tigers One Win Away From 11th State Title
St. X defeats Henry Clay, Manga 2-0 to advance to finals
There will now be a brand new high school boys soccer state champion crowned on Saturday, and with a 25-game winning streak dating back to Aug. 27, it could very well be the team from St. Xavier High School.
Behind goals from senior Mitchell Metzger and junior Adam Kirsch, the Tigers defeated and subsequently dethroned the defending state champions from Henry Clay High School on Wednesday night in Lexington, putting St. X one win away from its 11th state title in program history.
St. Xavier head soccer coach Andy Schulten, who will make his 8th state championship game appearance since 2000, motivated his team during the week leading up to Wednesday's state semifinal game by simply reminding his players what was at stake.
"We were the (state) champions two years ago and (Henry Clay) took it from us. Even though they didn't (directly) beat us last year, we approached it as if we want to reclaim (the state championship)," said Schulten. "Our guys were supremely motivated."
The Tigers have now won 25 consecutive games since starting the season with a 1-1-1 record and will face Ryle High School (23-2-3) on Saturday night with an opportunity to win the school's first soccer championship since 2009.
But in order to earn such a shot, St. Xavier had to get by a Blue Devil team that had rattled off 16 straight wins of its own, had plenty of state championship-experienced players back from last year's roster and featured senior John Manga, who scored 40 goals in 24 games this season for the 13th Region champion Blue Devils.
"We didn't set anything up special. I just told our defenders that we're going to play our regular game," said Schulten. "(Manga's) a heck of a player and we respect the heck out of him, but I think our guys wanted to step up against some really good competition and they did tonight."
The Tigers answered the bell by swarming Manga all night and only allowed two legitimate shots on goal by the explosive 6-foot-2 Henry Clay forward, both of which were stopped, saved and smothered by St. X senior goalkeeper Nathan James.
Even St. X senior Neil Henley, who is traditionally known for his high octane offensive prowess, got into the act of slowing up the highly-touted Manga.
"(Henley) didn't really dominate the game, he was just a controlling force. The calming factor. He did a lot of little things tonight," said Schulten. "I saw him make a 60-yard run to chase Manga down to put some pressure on him and I thought, 'Wow, that's a star striker doing that for you'."
Offensively the Tigers got on the board in the game's 14 minute after Henley's shot on goal was deflected off the hands of Henry Clay goalkeeper John Paul Jikang and tapped into the net by Metzger on the deflection, giving St. X a 1-0 lead on the unassisted goal.
St. Xavier continued to seize control of the game in the second half and put the Blue Devils back on its heels by taking a 2-0 advantage in the 48th minute on a goal by Kirsch, which was mishandled by Jikang and set up on a well-placed corner kick from senior Gabe Stewart.
Following Kirsch's goal, the Henry Clay body language immediately changed.
"We talked about getting on the board first and not playing from behind, and how it might open up the field for us," said Schulten. "Henry Clay stuck to their strategy after we scored, which is to their credit. But I think after we put that second (goal) in they started playing with a little bit of desperation."
"The bigger field played to our strenghs tonight. It's a big wide field so we spread it out really good on offense and made it hard to defend."
James finished the game with just a handful of saves, but helped register St. Xavier's 15th shutout of the season. It was also the team's 4th during the postseason alone.
Henry Clay junior Addison Manley, who was last year's state tournament MVP, had one last look at the goal for the Blue Devils as time expired, but his attempt went wide right, which was symbolic of his team's night at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School - the site of this year's KHSAA soccer tournament final four.
"It feels great to take off the king," said Metzger. "It was definitely disappointing not to win last year and all week the coaches were telling us, 'They have what we want,' so we took it today."
The Blue Devils finish its season with a record of 23-2-1.
Ryle, which defeated Henderson County 3-0 in the first semifinal of the night, will be St. Xavier's state championship game opponent at 5pm on Saturday. The Raiders defeated Russell (10-0) and Montgomery County (4-1) to reach the semifinals and are led by Tyrus Sciarra and Cole Willoughby, who combined for 36 goals this season.
"I don't know much about (Ryle) at all," said Schulten. "I know they beat a team that played us really, really tough in St. Henry, so I'm going to start doing some research as soon as we get back to school tonight."
Saturday's title game will be the first played away from Georgetown College since 1998.