|Bluebirds Earn Fifth Straight Win|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham, Fort Thomas Matters. Highlands junior Joel Kendall (30) makes a move on Newport Central Catholic's Ryan Barth (11) in the 36th District championship Tuesday. The Bluebirds won 6-0.|
The Highlands Bluebirds boys soccer team (9-3-2 overall) hit its stride late in the season and it continued in the 36th District championship at Tower Park on Tuesday.
The Bluebirds rolled to a 6-0 victory over the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (8-5-1) for their fifth consecutive district championship and 10th straight win over the Thoroughbreds. The result and streaks are similar to what the Highlands female counterparts accomplished later in the day.
"We like to win games regardless of the steaks," said Chad Niedert, Highlands Head Coach. "But our region, as tough as it is, we set ourselves up in a better position with a one seed. But in our region at the same time, two seeds are pretty strong, too. We get another home game out of it."
Highlands has won six of its last seven games posting four shutouts with a 2-2 tie against Cincinnati (Ohio) Wyoming. The Bluebirds beat Louisville Trinity, 3-0 Saturday to conclude the regular season.
"It was a pretty good performance," said Eli Karnes, Highlands senior defensive midfielder. "It really shows what we can do further on in the year. The passing was really good. We worked on it in practice (Monday). If you get bodies across the goal, you can get it in. That's what we did."
Niedert quickly pointed out Highlands had a bigger win over NewCath than the regular season meeting on Sept. 15 at Tower Park. The Bluebirds won 4-0 that day.
"This is a good measure of the growth because frankly, I think NC played better than the first time we played them as well," Niedert said. "Both of us improved. There's a chance we see them again. I'm proud of how well we played. It's a testament to how much the guys want to win and keep the season going."
It stated with dominant ball-possession soccer. The Bluebirds put up 16 shots with 10 on goal and held NewCath to just two shots. Highlands sophomore goalkeeper Connor Mathis made saves on both Thoroughbred shots. Mathis did not see much action touching the ball.
"That means we're doing pretty well back there (defensively)," Mathis said. "We're staying together and keeping it out of the back, keeping it clean. (Communication) is really important considering if you don't, you're going to have a lot of people running the back side, which opens up a lot of field for the other team. It's nice to have somebody back there to throw (opponents) off or get possession if our player takes it."
Sophomore Colin Pieper earned tournament most valuable player honors with a hat trick of three goals for six points. All three goals came in the second half. Pieper has six goals and four assists on the season for 16 points. Highlands seniors Hank Cook and Brayden Gillman also made the all-tournament team.
Senior Austin Frazier added two goals and an assist for five points. Frazier has seven goals and four assists for 18 points this year.
Highlands led 2-0 at halftime. Senior Ben Fischer scored his second goal with 21:02 left in the first half.
The Bluebirds held the 1-0 lead until 2:02 remained in the first half. Senior Carter Smith found Frazier for the goal. That marked Smith's second assist of the year.
Pieper scored his first goal just 1:58 into the second half. Gillman had his team-high seventh assist on the goal to put Highlands up 3-0.
Pieper added his second goal with 33 minutes left. Junior Jordan Frisk had his second assist of the season on the play making it 4-0 Bluebirds. Frazier scored his second goal of the game with 28:36 remaining and Pieper tallied the hat trick with 13:36 left in the game.
"It wasn't the most settled game," Niedert said. "We've actually found ourselves in a position where we can be really strong at finding guys in behind when the game dictates. But at the same time when we play teams that are stronger and try to match us with possession like say Trinity, we're really strong at breaking teams down as well. We have a few different ways we're able to score. We're no longer this one-trick pony by any means. We're getting guys involved all over the field. It's exciting and it's fun to be a part of."
Highlands will face 35th District runner-up Covington Holy Cross on Saturday to start the 9th Region Tournament at Tower Park at 8 p.m. The Bluebirds have won it the last two years.
Highlands did play NewCath three times in 2013. The Bluebirds opened the season with a 2-1 win over the Thoroughbreds at Tower Park that year before losing 2-1 in the district championship at Tower Park. But in the third and most important game, Highlands won 1-0 in overtime at Ryle in the 9th Region championship when the play known as "The Bounce" occurred. Cole Davis-Roberts fired a free kick from near midfield into the attacking box. The ball bounced to the left where Mitch Gesenhues punched it in to give the Bluebirds the region title.
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