|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands senor Ethan Mills (center) heads the ball in for the game-winning goal over Covington Catholic on Tuesday. The Bluebirds down the defending state champions, 2-1.|
The fact that team happened to be the defending state champion and arch-rival Covington Catholic Colonels added more flavor to it. The Bluebirds (9-1-2 overall) responded to the call with a 2-1 9th Region victory Tuesday. Highlands moved to 5-0-1 in region play and has outscored opponents, 42-9.
"We're playing well right now," said Matthew Winkler, Highlands Head Coach. "We are starting to execute everything that we envisioned with this team. We're hitting the marks at the appropriate time of the season that I want to hit. There's still a lot of soccer left before the end of the season so this tests us in the middle of the season to see where we're at. But it also gives a preview of what to expect down the road because they're going to get better and we're going to get better. This 9th Region is going to be fun."
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CovCath entered the game also undefeated in region play at 2-0. The Colonels ventured to Louisville on Saturday and tied the Shamrocks, 1-1.
But Highlands outhustled CovCath to a number of balls recording 12 shots to nine for the Colonels. Both teams put six shots on goal. Highland senior goalkeeper Paul Tully had two saves in the first half and senior goalkeeper Simon Frink had three in the second half. CovCath senior goalkeeper Daniel Matos had four saves.
"This is a special group of boys here," Winkler said. "They've been together a long time. They know each other and they play hard for each other. They're very passionate about making sure the guy behind them and next to them gets the recognition for that. They're very selfless. Everyone is contributing."
The Bluebirds survived the physical battle that saw a number of dribbles and drives challenged. Highlands committed six fouls to nine for the Colonels (7-3-2). Both teams saw one player receive a yellow card.
CovCat had 12 players with at least one goal entering the game and Highlands had 14. Senior Solomon Farris still has a team-high 11 goals for the Bluebirds and senior striker Griffin Lamb leads the Colonels with the same number of goals.
"They work well as a team and pass the ball well to get it to the attacking players," said Tommy Steppe, Highlands senior defender. "It doesn't matter which one it is. They all have the capability to put it in the net. We had to drop people back to make sure we were marking and no one was running free."
Neither team scored in the first half. That did not change until 25:50 remained on the clock in the second half. Junior Luke Ventre took a nice pass on the far left post from the right side of the field for the score. That ended a string of six straight shutouts for Highlands.
CovCath held the lead until the 18:14 mark when Highlands tied it. Senior Brandon Zachary scored in front of the goal with an assist from Farris. That marked the fourth goal of the year for Zachary and second assist from Farris.
The Bluebirds took the lead with 9:31 left in the game. The Colonels let senior Colton Dolezal dribble from the left to the middle just outside the 18-foot box and he found senior Ethan Mills for the score. That marked sixth goal of the year for Mills and team-high eighth assist for Dolezal.
"That's something we've been working on all season," Mills said. "We've been doing that play specifically over and over in practice. It was great to see a result from that, especially with the constant threat we were having in the air on the crosses."
The Highlands students came in full force wearing white. They formed a tunnel for the players to run through after the win.
Highlands does not play again until Sept. 20 when Covington Holmes comes to town. Game time is 7:30 p.m. Winkler said a date has not been set for a make-up game with North Oldham that was postponed Saturday because of lightning.
Highlands 2, Covington Holmes 0:
The Ladybirds improved to 10-9 on the season with a 9th Region road victory and 5-6 in region play. Sophomore Olivia Gessner led Highlands with five aces and senior Hannah Harris had six kills.
Highlands takes on Scott in Fort Thomas on Tuesday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.