By John Lachmann
NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. – Highlands senior Nathan Tippenhauer was not in goal for the first half, and he did not have to stop a shot when he got into the match after the break.
Until the 74th minute.
That’s when he recorded his singular save on a point-blank shot on goal that preserved his team’s lead and its fourth straight shutout since the start of regionals.
The Bluebirds held on to beat West Jessamine, 1-0 in the first round of the state tournament match at the Colts’ middle school on Monday.
“We are so fortunate to have two awesome keepers,” Highlands coach Matt Winkler said. “It is remarkable every day, the amount of work that they put in, and it benefits us on the field – they both make crazy saves, every day on the field for us.”
Highlands advances to the state quarterfinal round, and will take on Lexington Paul Dunbar at Henry Clay on Saturday at a time TBD.
Late in the second half, West Jessamine senior Josh Bowman centered a pass from the corner, and Tippenhauer batted it away.
But junior forward Jonathon Miller was able to control the loose ball and shoot it from point-blank range, forcing Tippenhauer to make the key save in heavy traffic to protect Highlands’ lead.
“Tippy has one of those attitudes that is 100 percent on fire, all the time,” Winkler said, “That boy can come off the bench and he will be fine, no matter what it is, and he’s up for that.”
Winkler has gone with his in-match keeper split all season, and Tippenhauer proved his coach does not have to worry about the second-half goalie coming off the bench cold.
“I’m pretty used to it at this point,” Tippenahuer said. “I always make sure I come in at halftime and get warmed up best that I can, get focused mentally for the game throughout in the first half and try to make sure that I can clinch it for the team.”
Senior Chris Garbig had the Bluebirds’ best scoring chance early, firing a shot off the crossbar in the eighth minute.
Ten minutes later, Garbig did not miss.
Senior Jimmy Penrod sent d a perfect pass into Garbig at the far post, and Garbig one-touched it from a foot off the ground into the net for his team-best 16th goal of the season and his second in his last three postseason matches.
“The ball was cleared off the back line and I was sitting, unmarked on the back post and I was screaming for the ball, and I got it right on my left foot and I put it far post,” Garbig said.
Bowman was a one-man scoring chance machine in the first half, generated four of West Jessamine’s five shot, and all three junior Nick Breslin saves came off of Bowman’s leg.
With six minutes left in the first half, Breslin bobbled a hard Bowman shot from the top of the box but he held on. Three minutes later Bowman drove and ripped a shot, but Breslin dove to his left and was able to cover it as three Colts crashed the net.
“I was excited to get out of there with a 1-0 at halftime,” Winkler said. “That was exactly the kind of break we needed to kind of relax and recover a little bit, get our heads back into where we needed to go.”
Highlands forced Colts senior goalkeeper Wesley Holifield to make three saves in the second half, but none were on high-percentage shots.
West Jessamine, making its first appearance in the state tournament since 2008, sustained pressure midway through the half but only had one shot – a blast high from the right wing by Bowman – prior to Tippenhauer’s save.
The shots were 10-8 in favor of the Bluebirds. Holifield finished 5-for-6 in net.
Highlands rolled up six shutouts in the regular season, but has outscored its opponents, 10-0 since the start of the regional tournament.
“We didn’t keep that many clean sheets throughout the regular season, so to keep them now is really good and to advance this far in state is great, especially for senior year,” Tippenhauer said.
Said Garbig: “Our defense is incredible. Our last four games, shutouts, we all work together – it’s not just the back four, it’s the whole team collectively.”
Highlands’ last trip to the state tournament was in 2010, and the Bluebirds fell in the quarterfinal round.
“It feels amazing,” Garbig said. “As a freshman, Highlands got to sub-sectionals, so we’re looking to push past there this year.”
HALFTIME: 1-0. GOAL: H—Garbig. SHUTOUT: Breslin and Tippenahuer (4 saves). RECORDS: Highlands 17-7-1, West Jessamine 14-9-2.