The depth and skill level are lofty with Great Crossing boys' soccer, but the Warhawks' energy level tends to fluctuate like September weather.
Sometimes that's a matter of motivation, of course, and with 41st District rival Frankfort in town Tuesday, GC didn't require much in the hours leading up to that pivotal match. Nor did the predictably physical nature of play hurt the Warhawks' want-to.
Preston Welch's hat trick furnished the lead three different times, and goals by Christian Coutino and Seth Baker in the waning moments slammed the door on a 5-2 victory.
Every prior match between GC (6-4-2 overall, 1-0 district) and Frankfort (12-2-1, 2-1) has been a donnybrook, including a pair of district championship games. But the Warhawks have won them all, including this one to halt the Panthers' 10-game winning streak.
“It's our rivalry, so that's what we expect. I think we handled it well. There was some altercation, but 5-2, we came out with the win,” Welch said. “Nobody wants to be the first team to lose (in the district). It gives us momentum into the next game.”
Welch briefly left the field when he was roughhoused moments after his third goal, but he returned and set up Coutino for the crucial insurance tally with 2:23 to go.
Twenty minutes earlier, Welch buried a penalty kick for a 3-2 advantage after Coutino was tripped up inside the 18-yard line.
“Preston Welch can be the best player on the field any day he wants to,” GC coach Nick Maxwell said. “That's just Preston as a person and as a talent. When he's in the mood, no one's stopping him.”
Adam Gritton and Ethan Vermillion answered each of Welch's goals in the first half to keep the Panthers within reach.
That duo has combined for 31 goals on the season, but Great Crossing's defensive corps, led by Trey Redmon, Caleb Coats, Ethan Payne, Nathan Medford and Wes Holt, clamped down thereafter.
“We were just trying to focus, get a lot of communication, be strong and focused and win the ball,” Redmon said. “Keep up the physicality and outwork them.”
Maxwell called it Redmon's best performance in three varsity seasons.
“That back line is hard to get around,” the coach said. “There's lots of pace, lots of physical nature back there, and they don't shy away from confrontations.”
Ethan Purcell made eight saves on the night and was the stone wall at the end of several Vermillion runs in the second half.
Great Crossing bounced back from one-sided losses to two of the state's best teams, Madison Central and Corbin, with a 6-0 shutout of Estill County to close down the Tribe Shootout in Richmond on Saturday. Coutino and Brayan Ramirez each scored twice, with single goals by Aiden Bryan and Alvin Acosta.
“Winning Saturday against Estill was huge for us, and then coming out with the right mindset was what tonight was all about. That's something this team has struggled with,” Maxwell said. “They really met the challenge of, ‘The 51st District is ours, and we don't give it up until we choose.' It's exciting to get back to the way we should be playing, at least the energy. We can work on the soccer stuff, but the energy was the best we've seen all season.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.