Royals get two shutout wins –
Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
This past week has been the opening days of the 2017 seasons for most of the county’s fall sports squads and for Coach Kevin Hunter and his West Union Dragons’ girls and boys soccer teams, that meant a Wednesday night bus trip across the Ohio River. The season opener for both West Union soccer squads was a non-conference match up with the Mason County Royals and Lady Royals, who were already in their fourth games of the year. Though the final scores might not indicate it, the West Union teams played hard from start to finish, but just ran into some very talented soccer players from the Kentucky side.
The girls’ teams took the field first and for the first 18 minutes of play, battled to a scoreless tie. Early in the contest, Mason’s Rachel Payne had a couple of good looks from about 20 yards away, but both shots sailed high. All of the other rushes by the Lady Royals were thwarted by the West Union defense, including one shot that banged off of the top of the crossbar.
The ice was finally broken at the 22:25 mark of the first half when the Lady Royals’ Kaitlyn Cottam drove unopposed down the right side and beat West Union keeper Caitlyn Cooper top shelf right for a 1-0 Mason lead. Minutes later, the Mason advantage went to 2-0 on a bullet from 22 yards out off the foot of Hadley Faris that found the net. The goals kept coming for the home team when freshman Aerika Venne drove towards the goal and was challenged by Cooper, with the two colliding, but Venne managing to get just enough of the ball to punch it over the West Union keeper and into the net.
The best shot at a West Union goal came late in the first half when Jaycee Baldwin got a good look but her shot sailed just wide to the left. With 5:03 until the intermission, Mason’s Samantha Stricklett used her left foot to find the back of the net for a 4-0 advantage for the home side.
In the second half, the Lady Royals continued to put up goals, getting scores from Cottam, then two from Payne, and another from Kendra Shoemaker to lead 8-0. With under two minutes to play, the Lady Dragons’ Molly Fuller got loose on a breakaway but her shot went wide left and the game ended with Mason getting the shutout win.
“We came into this game with the girls and our number one goal was to shut down their #28 (Danielle Heflin),” said Coach Hunter. “She has had multiple hat tricks in the past year and we shut her down, but we found out they had others who could score. I don’t think this game will affect us in our next game and I still maintain that it might be the middle of the season before these girls hit their full stride.”
Going into the boys’ game, Coach Hunter knew that his Dragons had one tough task, that of stopping Mason senior Bryce Johnson, who racked up 28 goals last season and is considered one of the top players in the area. The Dragons bottled up Johnson for about 45 minutes of play, before the talented senior went on a tear, scoring four second half goals to lead the Royals to a 5-0 win.
“Going into this, we knew Bryce (Johnson) would be a big threat,” said Coach Hunter. “He’s in an Olympic development program and plays with a lot of top level players. We stopped him for a half and then some. If our boys continue to play like they did in the preview and learn from tonight, we will be okay. We will not see a player that good the rest of the season.”
The first half of the boys game turned out to be a scoreless affair for 40 minutes, with West Union goalie Colt Parker making a number of tough saves, including a stretch of four point-blank headers by the Royals which all found Parker’s grasp. The Dragons had a couple of scoring opportunities in the first half but shots by Chase Cummings and Nathan Greene were both just inches wide of the goal.
After the scoreless first 40 minutes, the contest became the Johnson show in the second half, as the Royals’ star started the scoring at the 36:05 mark and would find the back of the net three more times before the game ended. Toss in another goal from Abe Grigsby and the Royals had defended their home turf with the 5-0 victory.
“We had our opportunities on goal tonight, it wasn’t like some past games where we couldn’t get past the half,” added Hunter. “We worked the ball around and Colt made a ton of saves. We have some kids new to soccer and they are contributing and overall I thought our defense played well and then in the last 20 minutes we just started to get worn out a bit.”