By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
There are many reasons to throw out records once the postseason comes around.
One is the return of key players from injuries.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds soccer team played competitive soccer all year, but had a hard time finding victories because of injuries, defensive mistakes and an inability to score goals. That changed Thursday in NewCath’s 1-0 District 36 victory over the Highlands Bluebirds at Tower Park. Both teams advance to the 9th Region Tournament.
This marked the second consecutive district title for the Thoroughbreds. They beat Bishop Brossart for the 19th District title last year before beating Covington Catholic, 1-0 to win the 10th Region crown and losing 1-0 to Montgomery County in the first round of the state tournament.
NewCath also beat Highlands for the first time since 2004. The Bluebirds went 11-0-2 in the last 13 meeting against the Thoroughbreds, including a 2-0 win on Sept. 22 at Tower Park.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Mike McDonald, NewCath head coach. “Highlands is a great team. We have relatives on each team. We finally got our team back together. We stepped up and played well as a team.”
The game-winning goal came with 6:45 left in the game. Cody Guthier chipped a pass to Matt Tolle in just outside the box for the score.
“I just took it down the field and I saw (Tolle) making his run,” Guthier said. “So I just put a nice ball over (the Highlands defender) and (Tolle) had the skills to trap it and get a good shot off.”
The Thoroughbreds (5-9-5 overall) have won two in a row. They ended the regular season with a 3-0 win over Campbell County. All five NewCath wins have been shutouts.
The Bluebirds (10-8-2) have dropped two in a row after recording four straight shutouts. Highlands has been shut out six times this year.
Senior sweeper Graham Heil recently returned to help NewCath on defense. The Thoroughbreds did not allow any easy shots even though Highlands outshot NewCath 16-11 including 8-7 on goal. Heil did not play in the regular season contest.
“(Heil) is a strong defender and it’s hard to work around him,” said Matthew Winkler, Highlands head coach. “We couldn’t get it clicking on all cylinders. We have work to do.”
Senior goalkeeper Nathan Grosser continued his solid play for the Thoroughbreds in their 4-4-2 (defender-forward-midfielder) attack. He recorded eight saves.
“(Heil) is back almost to full strength and has been playing strong,” Grosser said. “It really shores up the back (defense). It’s pretty much the same lineup that carried us through that run last year. It’s the goalie’s job to communicate and tell people who they need to mark. That’s the reason we had defensive breakdowns during the regular season. Everyone was communicating (Thursday).”
Highlands goalkeeper Nick Breslin also had a good game with six saves. The Bluebirds have seven shutouts on the season. They mixed in 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 strategies in this contest.
“They have to realize where we are,” Winkler said. “We’re close to the end. That could be it.”
Grosser, Tolle and Patrick Lewis represented NewCath on the all-tournament team. Breslin and Andrew Barnes made it for Highlands.
Both teams had their chances in the card-free game. Both teams had seven free kicks. The Bluebirds had nine corner kicks to four for the Thoroughbreds.
The 9th Region Tournament takes place at St. Henry starting Sunday. In other district action around the region, St. Henry defeated Villa Madonna, 4-0 to win the 34th District; Boone County beat Ryle, 3-2 to win the 33rd; and Covington Catholic beat Covington Holy Cross, 4-0 to win the 35th.
“Every team in this region is going to be tough to play,” McDonald said. “We wanted to come out on top so we could draw someone from the loser’s bracket. We’re going to come in as an underdog. Teams are going to look down on us because of our record. We’re going to come out on fire.”
Ryle finished state runner-up to Louisville St. Xavier last year.