FRANKFORT - That jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, tradition-building first boys’ soccer season for Great Crossing High School is officially in the history book and the memory bank.
Henry Clay’s Sota Ippongi effectively ended it with a first-half hat trick Thursday night in the 11th Region championship at Sower Soccer Complex.
The Blue Devils scored five in all before intermission and made it back-to-back titles, three in the past five autumns, with a 6-0 victory.
"Sota's one of the best players in the state, and we knew it," GC coach Nick Maxwell said. "The thing about Sota is he's got a team around him that's amazing. Henry Clay is a state-winning caliber team, and that's what we have to strive and push to be like in the future."
Chris Sanders and Tahj Jairam backed up Ippongi’s initial goal with their own tallies by the 20-minute mark for Henry Clay (21-1-3). Jairam assisted the Sanders shot, which like every goal the Blue Devils scored was a quick-strike, foot-to-foot, point-blank thing of beauty.
Ippongi, who now has scored two-dozen goals his senior season, applied the exclamation point with a pair of next-level one-timers that neither the GC defense nor all-tournament goalkeeper Isaac Sullivan had a prayer of stopping.
"No keeper in the nation is saving that," Maxwell said. "We held them for the first 10 (minutes). Then we made a bad mistake and turned the ball over to Sota, who did what Sota does. He's shifty, he's technical, he's clever. If some Division I school hasn't picked him up yet, they're absolutely ridiculous."
It was a battle of two stingy sides that allowed a total of 30 prior goals between them. Great Crossing's gritty backs simply couldn't clear the box with consistency against a talented Henry Clay attack at the top of its game.
"Not giving up that early goal probably would have changed the complexion of the first half a little bit," Maxwell said. "The other thing we did poorly is we did not win that second ball. They were sending long balls into the box, We were heading them out. Our back line was doing their job, but there was nothing there to protect against that quick counter. Unfortunately that's what happened to us, and we didn't do a very good job in preventing that."
GC (14-3-3) showed plenty of pride and skill in what was essentially an even second half. The Blue Devils converted off a corner kick on Nishan Budhatkoki's goal with three minutes remaining for the final margin.
Sanders, Keandre Sandoval, Hunter Crone and Cayden Rose all added an assist to the Blue Devils' barrage.
"The second half, we made some tactical changes in formation. They kept their starters on the field the first 10 or 15 minutes, and I know their attitude was a little different, but we came out and the work rate picked up," Maxwell said. "We had a couple of opportunities around the box. We pressed to put a number up on the board, and it just didn't happen."
Ty Martin and Thomas Disney joined Sullivan on the all-tournament team for Great Crossing. Ippongi was an easy pick for most valuable player.
It was a remarkable postseason journey for Great Crossing, one that hadn't been experienced by a boys' soccer team from Georgetown since Scott County won the region and advanced to semi-state in 2006.
"Don't let this game define our season," the vocal Sullivan told his team in the post-game huddle. "Just getting here was amazing, guys. We're family. We fight for each other."
Great Crossing posted its fifth consecutive shutout with a 3-0 victory over Western Hills to open the 41st District playoffs. It used a goal in the final minute of regulation and a penalty kick tiebreaker to deny upset-minded Frankfort, 4-3, in the district title game.
The Warhawks rallied past Frederick Douglas, 2-1, at home in Monday's region quarterfinal, then eliminated Paul Laurence Dunbar, a program with three state titles to its credit, by the same score on Tuesday night.
Henry Clay simply was a different animal. The Blue Devils' lone loss was a 2-1 decision against St. Patrick of Chicago on Sept. 27. They are ranked No. 2 in the state according to the current Maher Rankings after being No. 1 for a week in September.
The Devils shut out 15 opponents in successful defense of their region championship after reaching the state's final four a year ago.
"Tonight they were a much better team than us," Maxwell said. "If we were to play tomorrow night, I don't know that they would be 6-0 better than us, but they are a very good team, and I would be very shocked if they are not in the state finals representing our region well."
Great Crossing graduates 14 seniors: Max Agruna, Jacob Coats, Brice Cole, Trace Darnell, Disney, Devin Edenfield, Logan Farley, Bradyn Johnson, Martin, Keagan Morrin, Zach Shelton, Sullivan, Parker Vanlandingham and C.J. Wittry.
Including their time at Scott County, four of the Warhawks – Johnson, Morrin, Sullivan and Wittry – were four-year varsity players.
"When I played, Dunbar was the big powerhouse in Lexington, and now that baton has been passed on to Henry Clay. It's our job now to figure out what we can do to make that bar ours in the region. We have the ability. We have the talent to do that in Scott County," Maxwell said.
"The best part tonight was looking over at the JV guys seeing what it takes to be here," he added. "Here's the style of soccer it takes. I think if we continue to push and press that, as we continue to move forward as a program, it just gets stronger and stronger."