By Dan Wright
UNION, Ky. – Last week, Newport Central Catholic defeated Highlands, 2-1, for the 36th District championship.
Saturday at Ryle’s Clifford R. Borland Stadium, senior Mitch Gesenhues scored a golden goal one minute and one second into overtime to give the Bluebirds 1-0 win against the Thoroughbreds and something more important than revenge -- the 9th Region title.
"We didn’t have our best game last weekend so it was time to turn it around." said Highlands head coach Matthew Winkler. "We’re clicking nicely and hopefully we can continue on that good run."
Highlands hopes to continue that run in the first round of the state tournament Monday in a game hosted by 12th Region champion.
First, the Bluebirds, coming off consecutive 4-0 victories in the first two rounds of the tournament, had to survive a physical match that saw 32 fouls and five yellow cards given out. It also saw the Thoroughbreds claim a commanding 17 to 3 advantage in shots on goal.
"Their keeper (junior Nick Breslin) made a couple of really good saves in the first half to keep them in the game and I think that kept their momentum going on into the second half," said NewCath head coach Mike McDonald. "I think we almost dominated the first half and then the second half it was pretty evenly matched. You leave another good team in the game that long, they’re going to do something eventually."
What Highlands did started with a free kick by senior Cole Davis-Roberts 65 yards from the goal. His kick found its way into NewCath’s goal box where it bounced onto the foot of senior Mitch Gesenhues, who placed it into an open net from inside the six-yard box for his sixth goal of the season and second of the tournament.
"Cole played a great ball that just hit the ground and bounced over two defenders and I was there past my defender who was guarding me and put it in the back of the net," said Gesenhues, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
"It was the best feeling in the world. I couldn’t ask for a better day," said Gesenhues. "It’s been a long time since we won the region championship, two years since we got past the first round of it, so it was a great feeling. All the guys tackled me and everything, it was just awesome."
Davis-Roberts was one of three other Bluebirds to make the all-tournament team, not just for setting up the game-winning goal, but also by keying a defense that did not allow a goal in any of its three regional tournament games after Highlands had just six shutouts in 20 regular season games.
"We moved Devin Dupont back so he could mark the leading striker and then I would just kind of float behind him and just clean up what came through," said Davis-Roberts. "So I think that was a really good switch for us. It allowed me to just cover the whole back and basically get everything out."
Dupont, who marked NewCath leading scorer Matt Tolle most of the match, also made the all-tournament team for Highlands along with sophomore Noah Sellers.
Junior goalkeeper Paul Grosser made the all-tournament team for NewCath along with seniors Nicholas Huesman and Ben Tierney.
"I couldn’t ask for a greater group of kids, they worked their butt off and left it all on the field," said McDonald, whose team lost in the regional final for the second straight season. "Good luck to Highlands from here on out. We need to bring to bring a trophy back to Northern Kentucky, and I hope they can do it."
HALFTIME: 0-0. GOAL: H—M. Gesenhues. SHUTOUT: Breslin (6 saves) and Tippenhauer (10 saves). RECORDS: Highlands 16-7-1, Newport Central Catholic 14-5-1.
All-Tournament Team: Cray McCarthy (Ryle), Cory Eibel (St. Henry), Evan O’Hara (Boone County), Zach Wehrman (Holy Cross), Zachary Kilmer (Dixie Heights), Jeremy Sweet (Dixie Heights), Parker Kenney (CovCath), Corey Craig (CovCath), Paul Grosser (NewCath), Nicholas Huesman (NewCath), Ben Tierny (NewCath), Cole Davis-Roberts (Highlands), Devin Dupont (Highlands), Noah Sellers (Highlands). MVP- Mitch Gesenhues (Highlands).