But it is still a great way to stat the post-season for the winning team. The Highlands Bluebirds (13-7 overall) knew they had a quickness advantage on the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (10-10-1). The Bluebirds just had to prove it Tuesday at Tower Park.
From the start, that was never in doubt as Highlands dominated in a 3-0 shut-out victory. The teams have split the six meetings in the current alignment. But this marked the first time either team won by more than a goal. Highlands won 1-0 last year and 2-1 on penalty kicks in 2014.
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"We're setting a tone for the rest of the postseason," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "NCC is a good team. They're going to be a threat in the region tournament. We very well might see them again in the region championship. But our guys came prepared. Their mentality was right. We were intentional beforehand about being loose and having fun. Soccer is a game where you have to make the least amount of mistakes. When you're tense, it's easy to make those mistakes so we were trying to avoid that."
The Bluebirds recorded 24 shots including 14 on goal compared to four shots including one on goal for the visitors. Highlands junior goalkeeper Will Burnham only had to make one save while NewCath junior goalkeeper Ben Glaser made nine.
Burnham along with the Highlands back line did a tremendous job of limiting opposing shots. Juniors Alex Ford, Will Hochleutner, Drew Cavacini and Devin Harris lead the way back there. The midfielders also controlled the midfield and played the ball to the forwards for numerous opportunities.
"This has really been a building year for our back line," Ford said. "Entering the year, only Devin Harris and myself had any varsity experience. Next year will be even better for the back line."
NewCath had two players scoring in double digits. Senior Logan Muck has 18 goals and senior Sean Williams has 10.
"We did a good job minimizing those threats," Niedert said. "When we played them the first time around (a 4-2 Highlands win at Morscher Field on Sept. 5), (Williams) was an issue for us. (Muck) and (Senior Jacob Barth) are pretty dominant in the midfield. We outworked them and put the pressure on their (defensive) backs. We wanted to force them to make mistakes and we did a pretty good job of doing so. They fumbled the ball and made the most of some of those opportunities."
Highlands had several good opportunities early. But the Bluebirds finally put one in off a rebound when Nick Gish scored his sixth goal of the year with 28:45 left in the first half.
"One of my goals throughout every single game is to score early in the first five to 10 minutes," Gish said. "I know when I'm able to put one in or someone is able to put one in, we push 10 times harder and I feel like we position ourselves when we get that early goal."
The Bluebirds extended the lead to 2-0 with 17:41 left in the first half. Sophomore Porter Hedenberg found senior Blake Shuley in the middle for the score. That marked the fourth assist for Hedenberg and second goal for Shuley on the year.
Highlands added its last goal with 19:53 left in the game. Junior Luke Schweitzer scored on a rebound for his third goal of the year.
Highlands had nine corner kicks to two for NewCath. The Bluebirds had 11 fouls and one yellow card to 10 fouls and two yellow cards for the Thoroughbreds. Highlands also had three offsides calls to one for NewCath.
Highlands will play host to a runner-up team from the 33rd, 34th or 35th District to open the 9th Region Tournament at Tower Park on Tuesday. The drawing will be Saturday at Noon. The opponent could be Ryle, Cooper, St. Henry, Dixie Heights, Covington Catholic or Covington Holy Cross.