Both perennial state powers, the Charleston Catholic boys and girls soccer teams had to show patience and perseverance in marching forward another step in the postseason on Saturday.
Facing defensive and upset-minded foes, the Catholic boys ground out a 2-0 win over Herbert Hoover and the Irish girls picked up a 4-0 win over Pocahontas County in sweeping the Class AA-A Region 3 Section 1 finals at Shawnee.
Both teams will face Oak Hill on Tuesday at Schoenbaum Stadium in Region 3 finals with a trip to the state tournament hanging in the balance. The boys game will kick off at 5 p.m. with the girls scheduled to play after the conclusion of the first game.
Saturday’s games mirrored each other to an extent with Catholic facing stacked boxes and with room to operate offensively scarce, especially in the early going.
The girls picked up a goal late in the first half as Lindsay Carr buried a shot with 10:07 remaining to send the teams to the break with the Irish (19-1) leading 1-0.
But Carr was just getting started as she added a pair of goals in the second half and assisted on a third scored by Abigail Cunningham as Catholic pulled away in crunch time.
“They had a good defensive plan and nothing to lose,” Catholic coach Amy Mullen said. “They’re tough and they go to the ball. But as long as we calmed down — we were nervous — and we calmed down and started playing the ball and relaxing. The second half was so much better for us.”
The Irish outshot the Warriors 14-0 and kept the pressure ratcheted up until the scores started coming.
Both teams are staples in the state tournament — the girls have three straight runner-up finishes to their credit — but to get there again, they had to navigate through some adversity and some tense moments on Saturday.
“The playoffs are always really scary because it can be taken away from you so quick,” Mullen said. “A lot of these girls just think this is what we do, but it’s been a tough season at times. We’ve had a hard time getting the ball in the goal so I think we all were a little nervous.”
The Herbert Hoover boys entered Saturday’s contest hot, having gone 8-0-2 over the last 10 games, and the Huskies certainly played like a more confident team than the one that lost 5-1 to the Irish earlier in the year.
Hoover (14-6-3) packed the backline and the strategy paid off … for a while. With 10 players swarming in front of the goal, the Huskies clogged passing lanes and ran enough interference to keep Catholic (19-1-2) from getting many clean shots at the goal. It allowed the Huskies to reach the halftime break with the score still even at 0.
But with only forward Michael Watkins at the front, Hoover struggled to keep the ball out of its own end, and with the pressure and fatigue increasing with each passing minute, Catholic finally broke through.
David Kershner found the back of the net 3:56 into the second half to put the Irish up 1-0 and Aidan Paul buried his first goal of the year from about 25 yards out with 15:12 to really deflate the upset hopes of the Huskies.
Playing only 13 players and having to consistently scramble against the relentless Irish attack finally became too much for Hoover to keep up with. Catholic coach Niall Paul said that consistent attack and his team’s patience and tenacity were keys in the victory.
“We talked about that at halftime, at some point it’s hard to maintain that level of coordination, that level of action on defense,” Paul said. “They shifted well together, but eventually you’re going to get tired and the holes were going to continue to be created.
“The way you beat a parked bus is you’ve got to be fast. You’ve got to create your opportunity and take it. Hats off to them. They’ve played better and better every game we’ve seen. First time we played them versus this time was a very different team.”
The Irish fired off 12 shots on goal with nine of them coming in the second half. The Huskies’ Brady Persinger made 10 saves.
Hoover will graduate five seniors, and on Saturday coach Don Mercer commended their effort in what turned out to be their final contest.
“The seniors played as hard as they could,” Mercer said. “We set up a defense that would try to keep it as low as possible and it worked for a while. They played their hearts out for their last game and giving up only 29 goals for the season, that sets a school record. That’s the best we’ve done against Catholic for a long time.”