But it's hard to overlook the fact that on Aug. 25 in Owensboro, the next opponent for the Highlands Bluebirds boys soccer team (22-1-3 overall) lost 4-2 to the same Daviess County Panthers team (21-3-1) that the Bluebirds beat 3-0 in the state quarterfinals on Saturday at Dunbar. That's one of two opponents Highlands and the 2nd Region winner Hopkinsville Tigers (19-6-2) have in common. The two meet at 8 p.m. Thursday at Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington.
The other one is Campbell County (10-8-4). Hopkinsville beat the Camels, 3-1 on Sept. 8 in the Boots and Butts Soccer Classic in Hopkinsville and the Bluebirds beat the host Camels, 7-0 on Aug. 28.
While Highlands handled Daviess County in the state quarterfinals, Hopkinsville had to go to penalty kicks to beat 6th Region champion Louisville Butler, 2-1. Both teams had tough Semi-State games winning by identical 2-1 scores. Highlands beat 10th Region champion Montgomery County in double overtime and Hopkinsville defeated 1st Region champion Calloway County in Murray.
The winner takes on either 11th Region champion Lexington Henry Clay (12-8-3) or Louisville St. Xavier (24-2-1) in the state championship at 8 p.m. back at Frederick Douglass on Saturday. Highlands beat Henry Clay, 2-0 at Bryan Station on Aug. 18 in the Lexington Soccer Showcase.
The Highlands identity all season has been solid defense and using the speed and height up top to create scoring chances. The Bluebirds have outscored opponents, 97-11 on the season. Highlands has 16 shut-outs on the season playing solid defense in front of senior goalkeeper Will Burnham.
"It's really important. We value our defense. We know we have one of the best defenses in the state if not the best," said Garrett Crowe, Highlands senior midfielder/defender. "We just believe if we stay in front of the ball and don't dive, we can beat any team in the state so we're just going to go out there and play the way that we usually do. Hopefully, we come out with the win and play on Saturday."
Highlands had an 0-1-2 stretch in three games. The Bluebirds tied East Central (Indiana) on Sept. 18 in Saint Leon, 2-2 in the lone game they've allowed more than one goal this season before losing 1-0 at Hamilton Southeastern and tying Bishop Brossart, 0-0 on Sept. 25.
"Sometimes we fall short on occasion," Niedert said. "We feel that it's been a while since that was the case."
Max Farris at 12 goals and 11 assists and junior Porter Hedenberg at 11 goals and 13 assists lead the way with 35 points each. Senior forward Luke Schweitzer is third with 14 goals and six assists for 34 points.
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Hopkinsville has outscored opponents, 95-51 on the season. Just more than 40 percent of the Tiger scoring has come from senior forward Ryan Rousel with 41 goals and 14 assists for 96 points.
"That's the one we've heard about," Niedert said "That's about their main player. I know he was recently named First Team All-State."
Four other players have 15 or more points for the Tigers. Senior midfielder Zach Moore is second with 12 goals and 18 assists for 42 points and junior midfielder Tyler Greenwell is second with 16 goals and six assists for 38 points.
Hopkinsville's goalkeeper is junior Xavier Bussell. The Tigers have eight shutouts this season.
Highlands last made the state semifinals in 2008. The Bluebirds beat Henderson County, 2-0 before losing 7-2 to Louisville St. Xavier in the state championship.
Directions to Frederick Douglass High School:
- Head South on Interstate 75 to Lexington
- Take the Winchester Road Exit (Exit 110) and go East toward Lexington
- Frederick Douglass is accessible from Winchester Road on the left.