September 21st, 2011

No. 2 Tigers Pass District Test With Shutout

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

No. 2 Tigers Pass District Test With Shutout
photo by Chris Jung

St. X defeats DuPont Manual for 11th straight win overall

Near the 22nd minute during the second half of Tuesday's 12th District soccer showdown between the state's No. 2 ranked St. Xavier High School and No. 16 DuPont Manual, a Crimsons fan shouted audibly above the rest of the crowd in the direction of the Manual bench.

"Somebody shoot the ball!," exclaimed the unidentified woman.

Her frustration was echoed on the Manual sideline as the Crimsons, a team that was unbeaten in its last seven games and hadn't lost since Aug. 27, was completely taken out of its rhythm and dominated by the Tigers during a 5-0 St. X shutout at Brother Thomas More Stadium.

Tigers senior Neil Henley scored a pair of goals to lead his team to the key district victory. It was the first matchup between St. X and Manual since the Tigers' 3-0 defeat of the Crimsons in last year's 6th Region Championship.

WIth the win, which was the team's 11th in a row overall, St. X puts itself in position to earn the top seed in next month's district tournament.

"We do have four really strong teams this year (in our district) and it's going to be a good tournament, so this is big for us," said St. Xavier Head Coach Andy Schulten after the game.

Manual (9-4-1), which earned a hard-fought 3-2 win over Greenwood in the South Oldham Invitational just one night earlier on Monday, seemed to be running on fumes and the Tigers took advantage.

"I knew if we could fight with them in the first half that it would wear on them in the second half, and I think it did," said Schulten. 

The Tigers grabbed its first and final lead of the game at the 19:33 mark in the first half, as senior John Haas took senior Mitchell Brinkworth's corner kick and headed it past Manual goalkeeper Ian Johnson for a 1-0 lead.

Just over six minutes later, with 13:11 left until halftime, Henley hooked around a Manual defender and looped a curveball into the left side of the net, as a frozen Johnson could not even react to the shot on goal.

Following a 2-0 St. X lead at halftime, the Tigers added to its advantage with 36:31 remaining in the game when senior Danny Belza and Henley broke toward the goal. Another senior, Mitchell Metzger, would proceed to find a streaking Henley near the goal, deliver a near-perfect pass and allow the all-stater Henley to score his second goal of the game and give St. Xavier a 3-0 cushion.

"That little triumvirate right there (Belza, Mitchell and Henley), they read each other so well," said Schulten. "Metzger's assist to Neil in the second half was about as good as you're ever going to see. Not because of the pass itself, but because Danny Belza made a run to the far side and drew the entire defense. Mitchell looked right at him and made basically a blind pass, cutting against the grain, right on Neil's foot. And that's something you don't coach. That just comes from playing together."

Manual managed to keep St. X out of the net for more than 20 minutes after the Tigers' third goal, but Schulten's bunch had one flurry left in the tank.

And after junior Adam Kirsch scored to give St. Xavier a 4-0 lead on an assist from senior Logan Riely, the Tigers would score a minute later on junior Ben Johnson's rebound goal off a deflection. A stunned Crimsons team fell behind 5-0, which would hold up as the game's final score.

St. X goalkeepers Nathan James and Chris Nabor teamed up for the shutout - the Tigers' sixth in 14 games this year. The St. Xavier defense was also superb during the distict win and kept Manual from ever getting off a point-blank shot at goal.

"I was content to give up 25 and 30-yard shots. I've got a lot of faith in our goalkeeper (Nathan James) at that distance," said Schulten. "(Manual) had to fight so hard just to get in position to take those (long) shots, that I think they jumped on the opportunity to try and be within range and hope for the best."

For Henley, it was the senior's team-leading ninth goal in seven games played this season. He has now also scored two goals or more in four games in 2011.

St. Xavier, which hasn't lost a game since Aug. 24, has three games left on its schedule (Eastern, St. Henry and Atherton) before taking on rival Trinity on Sept. 28. The Tigers and Shamrocks, which have established themselves as two of the state's best teams with a combined record of 28-1-1, seem to be on a crash course for next week's showdown.

So how does Schulten keep his team focused during such a winning streak and with the Rocks getting closer in the windshield?

"I try to set goals for us to achieve each game as far as coming out and respecting the other team, putting our best out there and progressing each game," said Schulten. "But the bottom line is that it comes down to the seniors. It seems like every day I'm reminding them, 'Hey, we've got two weeks left in your career.' This is their opportunity and usually it only takes just a little reminder to keep this rolling."

St. Xavier (12-1-1) will take the field on Wednesday at Eastern (7pm) and then again on Saturday against St. Henry at Marshall Stadium (2pm).


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