Two goals by Huffman, one by Rogers enough for win
By Jeff Keeling
May 17, 2:30 p.m. — The undefeated Science Hill High School boys soccer team won its sectional match with Hardin Valley this morning in a 3-2 game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Toppers will play a first-round state game in Murfreesboro Tuesday.
“I felt like we were in synch the whole match today for the most part, and didn’t become spectators,” head coach Brandon Kind said. “We started possessing the ball more after we got the lead.”
The Toppers used two goals by junior wing John Huffman, sandwiched around a goal by junior striker Jhordan Rogers, to take a 3-0 lead that held up until the final 6 minutes, when Hardin Valley scored on a penalty kick and a second goal with just a few minutes remaining.
The Toppers moved to 20-0-1 on the year and will learn of their state pairing later today. The eight-team, single-elimination state tournament begins Tuesday. Science Hill will play sometime between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. central time.
Science Hill had failed to convert on a number of opportunities when Huffman ran up on a cross from the right side that had gotten past Hardin Valley’s goalkeeper. Huffman finished from just a few yards out near the left post. Hardin Valley had had several chances of its own, despite Science Hill seeming to dominate possession, and the halftime lead was by no means comfortable.
“I told them at halftime, one goal isn’t going to do it,” fifth-year head coach Brandon Kind said. “They bought into that and got settled in the second half, really played well and it started falling for us, so that was a great thing to see.”
Kind said this year’s team has played with a maturity beyond its years. The roster includes four seniors. “We mainly consist of juniors and sophomores, and a few really solid freshmen,” Kind said
“In this game, you will get scored on at some point, so teaching these guys to respond to that has been a goal all year.”
This time, the Toppers responded by widening a halftime lead that probably should have been larger. Roughly eight minutes into the second half, Jhordan Rogers ran up on a deflection after a Science Hill shot the Hardin Valley keeper had had to stretch for. Rogers beat the keeper to the loose ball and placed a shot just under his outstretched body to give Science Hill a 2-0 lead.
Kind had particular praise for the sequence of events leading to the goal that put the Toppers up 3-0 midway through the second half. A 20-yard, one-touch volley by Huffman, it came off a rebound near the Hardin Valley net that was collected by Jared Lady. The junior turned and dropped the volley to his teammate.
“That was a skilled shot, a one-time volley in traffic, but Jared did the blue collar work and grinded and fought for the ball. He made a brilliant decision and laid it back and that contributed to John’s goal more than anything.”
Science Hill would need that goal. A penalty with about 5 minutes to go led to Hardin Valley’s first goal on a penalty kick, and the crowd then got more than a little worried when the Hawks followed with a goal in traffic just a couple minutes later.
The team held on, and Kind said he hopes Science Hill’s diverse style of play and mental toughness can carry the team to a state championship this week. That diversity was on display with the goals coming from a cross, a rebound and the final goal off a finesse assist and long volley.
“Whether it be possession, long balls, on the flanks or from the back we want to be diverse,” Kind said.
The Toppers will play Tuesday in the state quarterfinals. A win would put them back on the field Wednesday, while the championship game is Friday.
Kind has taken the team to state twice before, and lost sectional matches the other two years. The team lost to Hardin Valley in the state championship in 2011, and returned to state in 2012. Last year, the Toppers outshot Maryville in a home sectional match but lost 1-0.
“I’m proud of the maturity they have for such a young team. They’ve got thick skins because they’ve been on heartbreaking sides of games.”
Despite the gaudy record and number two state ranking, Science Hill is following its coach’s lead in taking a businesslike approach.
“Our motto this year is ‘keep your head down.’ I just don’t get caught up in the numbers games. I tell our kids not to. The only numbers that matter are at the end.”
The News and Neighbor will post information on the Toppers’ first-round opponent when it becomes available.