By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
NICHOLASVILLE – It did not take overtime to earn this one.
It took a great pass to the center to their leading goal-scorer for the game’s lone goal and lift the Highlands Bluebirds boys soccer team to another 1-0 victory in the first round of the state tournament over the host West Jessamine Colts on Monday. Highlands finds itself back in the state quarterfinals since a 3-1 loss to Scott three years ago.
Highlands senior forward Chris Garbig scored his team-high 16th goal with about 22:40 left in the first half following a nice centering pass from Jimmy Penrod. That marked the second assist of the year for Penrod.
Garbig had a nice shot about 10 minutes before that out of the Highlands 4-5-1 (defender-midfielder-forward) attack. He shifted to the middle and put one off the top crossbar with his left foot.
“It was amazing after hitting that first one off the post,” Garbig said. “I was hungry for another (shot) and I got the opportunity on the back post. Similar to (Newport Central Catholic), (the Colts) are tall and physical. They like to push you off the ball. We had to stay strong and I think we took the challenge.”
Garbig is one of two Bluebirds in double-digits for goals on the year. The other one is Colin Dean with 10.
The Bluebirds (17-7-1) have not allowed a goal in four straight postseason games. They also shut out their three 9th Region opponents by a combined 9-0 total. Highlands has 10 shutouts on the season. The Bluebirds have outscored opponents 68-30 on the season.
“We had the intensity for maybe the first 15 minutes then it became neutral for a while,” said Matthew Winkler, Highlands Head Coach. “Then it picked up for the last 15 minutes. I was excited to get out of here with a 1-0 lead at halftime. That was the exact break we needed to relax and recover a bit and get our heads back to where we needed. We came out and matched the intensity. I’m glad our defense held strong like we have the last few games.”
Highlands also made the state quarterfinals in 2008 beating Pendleton County, 3-0 on its way to finishing state runner-up to Louisville St. Xavier. The Bluebirds finished 17-4-4 that year. The Highlands school record for the most wins in a season is 21 in 1999.
West Jessamine (14-9-2) predicated itself on defense all season. The Colts outscored the opposition just 35-30 on the season scoring more than two goals in a game just three times this year. They also shut out 10 opponents on the year including a scoreless tie against NewCath on Aug. 24.
The Colts outshot the Bluebirds, 13-11 including 9-6 on goal. Nick Breslin made five saves in the first half for Highlands and Nathan Tippenhauer had four. West Jessamine goalkeeper Wes Holifield had 14 saves.
“We are so fortunate to have two awesome (goalkeepers),” Winkler said. “It is remarkable every day with the amount of work they put in and it benefits us on the field. They make crazy saves for us every day on the field.”
Highlands knew West Jessamine ran most of its 4-4-2 attack through senior defender/forward Josh Bowman. Bowman had a wide-open shot with 29:58 left in the second half from the right side. But his shot sailed high.
“(Bowman) was dribbling straight up the middle and we had to shut him down,” Penrod said. “We just made sure our defensive midfield got back on him and their other center midfielder up the middle. It seemed to work out.”
The Colts had their best chance to tie the game with 4:22 left in the game. Bowman crossed the ball to junior Jonathon Miller. Miller put up a soft shot that Tippenhauer had to dive to the ground to stop. Tippenhauer held it tight to prevent any rebounds.
“We’ve talked all season along about not trying to be fancy and cute in front of the goal,” said John Sutherland, West Jessamine Head Coach. “There is a saying of, ‘Take everyone and their grandmother into the goal with you.’ They gifted us with a chance there and we didn’t take it.”
Highlands also had a chance to go up 2-0 with 7:40 left in the first half. Noah Sellers booted a corner kick that 9th Region Tournament Most Valuable Player and title game hero Mitch Gesenhues shot off the right pole. Gesenhues scored the game-winner for the Bluebirds in overtime in the 9th Region title game over NewCath.
The game took place on a grass field. The Bluebirds played their home games at Tower Park on turf the past two years.
Highlands does not play in the state quarterfinals until Saturday at Lexington Henry Clay on a turf field. The Bluebirds will have to stave past top-ranked Lexington Paul Dunbar (23-1-2) at Henry Clay.
The three-time state champions and 11th Region champions are led by veteran head coach Todd Bretz and have won 10 in a row including a 4-2 state first-round decision over host Bishop Brossart on Monday. Dunbar is 18-0-2 against teams from Kentucky. The only loss for the Bulldogs came to Fort Zumwalt (Missouri) South in the Gateway Classic in St. Louis. They’ve outscored opponents, 103-20 on the season.