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Panthers win back-to-back district championships

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By Kristin Beck

As the horn sounded, Carroll County High School boys soccer coach Ben Crutcher raised his arms in celebration – and was congratulated with a nice water shower courtesy of his players – as the No. 1 seeded Panthers defeated the No. 2 seeded host, Henry County Wildcats, 3-0, Thursday in the 31st District Championship. Carroll County also won the championship last season in the district’s first year of existence.

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“It’s pretty sweet,” Crutcher said of winning back-to-back titles. “Last year, it was a dream come true, and this year, I have to give credit to this team and coaching staff for winning the second one.”

Crutcher said the entire team put in a great effort and credited Henry County for its improvement since the two teams last met Sept. 30. “I thought that Henry County stepped up their play tonight. We just have a better team. We played better soccer than they did tonight. We knew what they were going to try to do against us tonight, and we were prepared for it.”

This was Carroll County’s fourth victory of the season over the Wildcats.

Both teams advanced to the 8th Region tournament Monday. Carroll County hosted North Oldham at Panther Field, while Henry County traveled to South Oldham. 

Seniors Michael Hall and Mark Ogburn, junior Denis Perez and freshman Guillermo Cruz were named to the 31st District All-Tournament team.

The Panthers got on the board quickly, as sophomore Tyler Tuttle sent a cross from deep in the left corner to the front of the goal for a header by Ogburn in the fifth minute.

Following the goal, Henry County pushed the ball into Panther territory and attempted two straight corner kicks, but both were blocked by the Panther ‘D.’

In the 15th minute, Henry County’s Ethan Smith was hit with a yellow card for shoving Hall in the box. The senior striker stepped to the line and nailed the penalty kick to give his team a 2-0 lead.

Carroll County’s offense continued to put pressure on Henry County, as freshman David Marshall took a shot that sailed high over the goal and, on the next possession, Hall took off on a breakaway and narrowly missed on his shot. The Panthers controlled the ball most of the half, but were unable to score again before the half. Hall came close again in the 36th minute as junior Andres Baquero made a defensive move to steal the ball from a Henry County player and sent it ahead to Hall for a shot that sailed right in.

The teams traded shots to start the second half, but the keepers denied both. In the 12th minute, the Wildcats were hit with another yellow card, this time to Jacob Bratton for shoving Hall. Hall took the free kick and passed to Cruz in front of the goal. But Cruz slipped and couldn’t get a good foot on the ball, making it an easier save for the Wildcat keeper. Off the goal kick, the Wildcats sprinted down the field and took a shot that sailed wide right.

In the 14th minute, Hall took three straight shots on goal, but was denied all three times. About six minutes later, Alex Burns through the ball in from the right sideline up ahead to Marshall who took a shot, but it fell out the backside of the goal. The Panthers had another opportunity about four minutes later. Burns attempted a header off a corner kick, but it also sailed right.

In the 28th minute, the Panthers’ efforts were finally rewarded. Marshall dribbled the ball down the center of the field and passed it up ahead to Hall for a score, 3-0.

Carroll County’s defense continued to stand tall, and Crutcher brought most of his bench players into the game in the 33rd minute. Henry County followed suit a couple minutes later to finish out the game.

“I think that once again, it was a great team effort,” Crutcher said. “I thought our defensive line played amazingly well. I thought Brett Hall and Denis Perez did a great job tonight. I thought Michael Hall and Tyler Tuttle and Guillermo Cruz played a great game as well. This season, every win that we’ve gotten, every tournament title or trophy we’ve gotten this year has been because of a team effort. This team has really come together and worked really well together. They’ve got great chemistry, something I’ve not experienced with every team in my career, but this team has a lot of great chemistry.”

Crutcher said he wanted to dedicate the district championship to all the players and parents who put in the effort to build the soccer program to what it is today.

“Without their enthusiasm and effort in the game of soccer and bringing up these guys to love the game of soccer, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “It’s been really good to see us win back-to-back district championships in the first two years of our district, so I’m very pleased and very happy and I hope we can continue this success come Monday when we play our regional game this week.”