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For the fourth straight year, the Carroll County boys soccer team won their Two Rivers Invitational, held at Panther Field Saturday. The Panthers defeated Evangel Christian in game one and Covington Holmes in the championship to win the tournament.
Carroll senior Brandon Stewart was named MVP, while the following Panthers were named to the All-Tournament team: Josh McCarty, Jay Damron, Michael Hall and Jacob Beach.
“Brandon had a lot of goals, a lot of assists over these last two games,” head coach Ben Crutcher said … I don’t know how many goals and assists he had, but there were plenty of them. I was pleased with Brandon’s effort today.”
After checking the stat sheet, Stewart finished the day with four goals – two in each game – and 4 assists.
Field conditions for the tournament were less than ideal after a football game and heavy storm the night before. “Field conditions, I think, played a big part in how we played today,” Crutcher said. “We were real slow, the grass was long, the field was really, really squishy, so it made it difficult for us to play quick and play fast and play accurate balls to feet.”
Carroll opened the day with their match-up against Evangel Christian out of Louisville. The Panthers started off slow, allowing Evangel to score on them within the first four minutes. Fortunately for the home team, the goal woke them up, and Stewart nailed two straight goals in approximately the 7th and 20th minutes of the first half, the first off an assist by McCarty and the second on a breakaway.
On the very next play off the opening tap, Beach committed a foul, giving Evangel a free kick. A hard shot was ripped toward the goal, caught by Carroll goalie Cody Damron. But the Eagles got the ball right back and Cody Damron came out of goal and slid in front of the charging Eagle to make the save.
Carroll went on a scoring spree just past the midway point of the half. McCarty zipped the ball into the top right-hand corner net from about 20 yards out, 3-1, off an assist by Stewart. He followed that up two minutes later with a header off of a left side throw in from Chase Osborne. About a minute later, Stewart crossed a perfect ball in front of the Eagles’ net for a header by Alex Burns, giving Carroll a 5-1 lead.
But Evangel would not go down quietly.
The Eagles scored two goals in a five-minute span, one off of a sideline throw that landed directly in front of the Panther goal for an easy tap-in and the second on a counterattack that also began off of a long throw-in and ended with a one-on-one against Carroll’s goalie, 5-3.
Immediately following the second goal, Crutcher pulled half of his starters, telling them to “Wake up!” andpay attention to the long throw-ins.
The second half started in a stalemate between the two teams, but Carroll ultimately took control. Jay Damron jump-started the Panther offense in the 51st minute as his corner kick from the left side of the goal sailed in for a score after a miscommunication between the Eagles.
About three minutes later, the Eagles goalie was called for “stalling,” a seldomly called foul, because he picked the ball up, dropped it and picked it up again. The Panthers earned a free kick in the box, and Jay Damron tapped the ball over to teammate McCarty for the score, 7-3. McCarty scored again off of an assist from Stewart in the 64th minute.
With about five minutes remaining, Crutcher cleared his bench, and Michael Burns scored on a header off an assist by Erik Nava, 9-3.
“I thought we came out a little slow, a little sluggish in the first game against Evangel,” Crutcher said. “We gave up some lousy goals. The second half was much better. … Josh McCarty had a career game. He had four goals, so he did a fantastic job for us the first game.”
In game two, Covington Holmes defeated Henry County, 8-2. Evangel Christian beat Henry County, 6-2, for third place, setting up the championship game between the Bulldogs and the Panthers.
Carroll struck first as Stewart scored on a cross by Hall. Stewart came close to scoring again later in the half, as his shot hit the upper cross bar inside the goal, but did not cross the plain. Carroll led 1-0 at the half.
Crutcher encouraged his team to turn up the offense, and Stewart responded, scoring his second goal of the game within the first two minutes off a McCarty assist.
But the Bulldogs showed they wanted the championship win just as badly as the Panthers. Carroll was called for a foul in which a defender inadvertently tapped the ball back to Cody Damron in the goal, giving the Bulldogs a free kick within feet of the net. Carroll set up their wall and was able to keep Holmes from scoring.
On their very next possession, the Bulldogs were deep in Panther territory again. A Holmes player headed a ball into the goal, but it was waived off because the official said he climbed on the back of a Panther defender.
Hall took advantage of the shift in momentum, scoring his first goal of the tournament about midway through the half, 3-0, assist to Stewart.
Crutcher said he was satisfied with his team’s win, but was already looking ahead to the district match-up with Owen County Tuesday. “The Holmes team in the championship game really pushed us to make us work for that win, so that preps us for Owen County. … I’m looking already to Tuesday. Tuesday is the most important game of the season.”
With both teams undefeated in the district, Tuesday’s game will determine the district champion. The Rebels defeated the Panthers 3-1 in the All-A Sept. 1, but the game did not count toward their district records.
The tournament wins put Carroll at 8-5, equaling last year’s win total. “It’s time to batten down the hatches and get ready for Owen County on Tuesday,” Crutcher said.