By John Lachmann
FORT THOMAS, Ky. – Boone County has come back from multi-goal deficits several times this season.
So when the Rebels – by far the highest-scoring team in the region – cut the Newport Central Catholic lead to one on a penalty kick with 15 minutes left, it made for a long conclusion to NewCath’s regional quarterfinal win.
The Thoroughbreds held on for the 2-1 win over Boone County in the opening round of the Region 9 tournament at Tower Park on Tuesday, avenging their loss to the Rebels in the 2012 regional championship match.
The win was largely due to the effort to junior goalkeeper Paul Grosser, who stopped nine shots including several high-percentage efforts from close range.
“Phenomenal,” senior Evan Brannon said. “The best game I’ve seen him play this year.”
Said NewCath coach Mike McDonald: “We’re defensively strong. We give up a goal, it’s a PK to the best (offensive) team in the area. My defensive played outstanding, my goalkeeper had the game of his life today.”
The first half was played at a furious up-tempo pace, and NewCath forced Boone County to make two saves in the opening minutes.
The Thoroughbreds broke through at the 10-minute mark, as Brannon knocked home a throw-in from the sideline by senior Matt Tolle.
Grosser made his first challenging save less than three minutes later, cleanly fielding a point-blank shot after the ball pinballed around in the box.
A Tolle blast was deflected out for a corner at the 17-minute mark, setting up a goal by junior Noah Connolly, who booted home a loose ball deep in the box seconds later to make it 2-0.
Two minutes later, Grosser dove to stop a blast by sophomore Beau Downs that was ticketed for the corner of the net.
While the teams went up and down the field in the first half, after the break the teams were more physical.
“We knew they were going to come out and bang,” McDonald said. “They’re probably the only team up here that matches up with our size. We’re big – this is the biggest team I’ve had at NewCath – we had to match their intensity and I think we held our own.”
Grosser’s signature sequence of the match came early in the second half. Rebels senior Evan O’Hara beat two defenders and penetrated the box, but Grosser came out to deflect a point-blank rip that hit the post and went out of bounds.
O’Hara followed that scoring chance up by driving from the side of the net to the middle of the field and blasting another shot, which Grosser was somehow able to field cleanly.
The penalty kick was awarded to Boone County for elbowing, and O’Hara buried it with 15 minutes left in regulation, making it 2-1.
“That’s one thing that we’ve really improved (on) the most since the beginning of the season,” Brannon said. “After we’ve given up a goal we’ve learned to rebound and keep our composure and pull out the W.”
McDonald reiterated to his team that it needs to retain its focus down the stretch after the Rebels’ goal.
“If you lose composure in a game like this, things go awry for you,” McDonald said. “I thought we did a pretty good job – I said, keep your composure, it is what it is, you can’t call it back now. We played well.”
Rebels senior Michael Carroll sent a hard knuckling shot in from the outside that Grosser grabbed at ground level for a deceptively difficult save – his last big stop of the night – less than three minutes later.
O’Hara generated three more chances in the closing minutes, including a shot facing away from the net as he was left all alone and Grosser came out to challenge, but the ball hit the side of the net.
“(Grosser) started off the season well and he came in the middle of the season and kind of slacked off a little bit – it happens, they’re high school kids,” said McDonald, who was a former goalie. “We have full trust in him – you don’t put someone back there you don’t have faith in.”
It was just the sixth time in 24 matches Boone County was held to one goal or less. The Rebels finished the season with 87 goals – 3.62 per match.
“If we can hold them to one goal on a PK, that says something about us,” Grosser said. “I’m glad we’re here.”
NewCath will face Covington Catholic in a regional semifinal at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at Ryle. The Colonels won, 4-3 when the teams met in the regular season on Sept. 12.
HALFTIME: 2-0. GOALS: NCC—Brannon, Connolly. BC—O’Hara. RECORDS: NewCath 12-4-1, Boone County 16-6-1.