FRANKFORT - If it wasn’t widely believed before, it had better be now: Great Crossing High School boys’ soccer is on the map.
The first-year Warhawks are in the 11th Region championship and walked through one of the state’s signature programs to get there Tuesday night, knocking off three-time state champion Paul Laurence Dunbar, 2-1, at Sower Soccer Complex.
“I love this. I love playing with these guys,” said senior Keagan Morrin, whose goal gave Great Crossing its initial lead of the match. “I love that we got this far, and we're not done yet.”
GC, which downed Frederick Douglass, 2-1, in Monday’s quarterfinals, will try for the Lexington trifecta in Thursday night’s final against Henry Clay (20-1-3). Kickoff time is 7 p.m.
Ty Martin delivered the game-winner with 30:45 remaining in regulation, ripping a rocket to the upper ‘V’ and out of PLD goalkeeper William Elliott’s reach.
Zach Hamner had the assist on the play, which began as a run by Morrin.
“I made a run in the box. I saw Hamner cutting in, and I knew I was going to be open,” Martin recalled. “All the defense stepped to the line, and they left me with a back-angle pass. He dropped it on a dime, and I just did what I should have.”
Morrin cashed in for Great Crossing on a beautiful header at the end of a long free kick by Thomas Disney with 17:13 remaining in the first half.
GC earned the opportunity when Dunbar's Jed French received a yellow card for illegally impeding Doug Gindling's one-on-one run in the attacking third.
“Trey (Dice) set a pick for me, and I was able to find an empty slot and just head it into the goal,” Morrin said. “It really was just a tap-in, I think it was going in either way, but I just directed it into the back of the net. (Disney's) free kicks are always on point.”
PLD (11-7-2) tied it four minutes before halftime when French headed a long throw-in from Andrew Vogel past the dive of GC goalkeeper Isaac Sullivan.
Sullivan had a brilliant second half with plenty of support from the Great Crossing defense, which faced a barrage of corner kicks and deep throw-ins down the stretch.
“That was the longest five minutes ever at the end,” GC coach Nick Maxwell said. “Dunbar made that push at the end and had the opportunities. We were able to play good defense, clear that ball out, win some aerial challenges.”
Hamner, Dice and Zach Shelton played their traditional role as enforcers in the defensive end, but it was a collective effort once the Warhawks had the luxury of sitting on the lead.
“I think just being tough, not letting them body us,” Martin said of the key to keeping Dunbar off the board. “They had so many corner kicks, everything down here, but we knew what we had to do. We had to stay tough, and we got the job done.”
Dunbar should have been the fresher team after an easier (4-0 win over Madison Southern) and earlier (6 p.m. kick) test one night earlier.
From the get-go, however, Great Crossing's positive energy was unmistakable. The first shot of the semifinal was a rocket by Brayden Ward.
Moments after Morrin's right-place, right-time redirection, the Warhawks were oh-so-close to making it 2-0. Bulldogs' keeper William Elliott made the save of the night, diving to his right and stifling a blast by Brice Cole after getting a piece of Morrin's initial shot. Morrin also nicked the post on the ensuing corner.
'They came out a little tired from last night,” Maxwell said. “They had to do a little more work than the team across from us. They showed the grit and the ability to finish the game, and that's huge.”
Neither the scheduling challenges not Dunbar's rich tradition detracted from Great Crossing's confidence.
Dunbar’s only prior in-state losses were to three schools ranked in Kentucky’s top 10: No. 3 Louisville Collegiate, and twice to No. 8 Tates Creek. The Bulldogs also tied No. 2 Henry Clay. PLD joins Woodford County as GC's second top-20 victim of the season.
“I think the guys believe,” Maxwell said. “Now we have the opportunity to take down No. 2 Henry Clay, and what team doesn't relish that challenge and want that challenge? They're excited for that challenge, and that says a lot right there.”
Great Crossing is the first county boys’ team to play in a region final since Scott County won it in 2006. GC assistant coach Zack Adkins played on that squad.
The Warhawks are now 5-0 on the grass pitch at Sower Field, where they will have a complete lineup to battle the Blue Devils thanks to key midfielder Jacob Coats' return from a two-game suspension for a controversial red card in the district championship last week.
“I made him a promise about a week ago that I was going to make sure he played again. I had to keep that promise,” Martin said. “Words can't describe how important (this win) is to us. We're a family. We've got 14 seniors. We just didn't want to go home.”