Middlesboro sweeps district championship

By Shane Shackleford

Contributing Writer

High drama. Big plays. Defensive stands. Great emotion.

In other words, just another Harlan County and Middlesboro match-up.

In what has become one of the best rivalries in the 13th Region, the Yellow Jackets and Black Bears soccer teams added their page to the history books with the men’s teams playing to the wire for their crown and the women’s teams game going scoreless in regulation and two overtimes before being decided by penalty kicks.

In both matchups, it was Middlesboro emerging victorious, 3-2 over HCHS in the men’s game and 3-2 in the women’s.

In the first contest, the Bears (5-9) came out as the aggressor attacking the goal with several shots but unable to capitalize on them behind the strong play of MHS goalie Braden Ausmus, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. When MHS found their traction on offense, Bears’ goalkeeper Nick Shackleford was equally as stout in the net, coming up with four saves of his own.

The Jackets (10-2) finally broke the scoreless tie on a Thaisin Sin goal in the seventh minute, giving Middlesboro an early 1-0 lead. MHS tacked on another score on a Junior Arrieta goal with 52 seconds to play in the half to take a 2-0 lead into intermission.

Harlan County came out attacking the net again, taking the first six shots of the frame. Once again, Ausmus was up to the task, stopping all of them.

In the 18th minute, MHS was assessed a yellow card resulting in a penalty kick for HCHS. The Bears’ midfielder Hunter Mefford’s kick was true and the lead was cut to 2-1.

However, the Jacket’s Jabari Kyle scored off a nice assist from Sin in the 15th minute to extend the Jacket lead 3-1. The score would hold up until four minutes to go when HCHS’s Issac Taulbee hit a penalty kick to bring the Bears within one at 3-2.

The Jackets withstood a late Bear flurry of shots to claim the district title.

“I’m very proud of the team,” said boys coach Tim Millet. “We started out kind of slow, but started to get things going as the game went on. I thought our defense played a wonderful game. They played tough and outstanding. Credit Harlan County for playing a great game. They came out aggressive, and I think we weren’t ready for that. We had beaten them a couple of times in the season, and I think we thought we were just going to come out and win. We figured out pretty fast that we had a tough game on our hands.”

“We’ve had our full team for a few games in a row now,” said Millet. “That’s very beneficial heading into the regional tournament. If we can stay healthy, I really like our chances in the region. We are going to play some fierce competition, but our team has already shown that we can go on the road and win. We’ve worked hard and played hard all season. Hopefully we can keep that up. I’m very proud of our guys. It feels good to be the district champion.”

The Yellow Jackets had six players make the all-tournament team: T.J. Patterson, Junior Arieta, Thaisan Sin, Blaine Woody, Tyshawn Simpson and Braden Ausmus (MVP).

In the second game of the evening, MHS goalie Jordyn Ferguson and HCHS netminder Mackenzie Crider put on a defensive clinic between the posts, leading their teams to a scoreless draw for over 90 minutes of play. Ferguson had 30 saves on the evening, while Crider had 18.

Both squads had their opportunities to score, but both goalies and the defenders for HC and MHS were up to the battle when their teams needed it the most.

Eventually, it would take penalty kicks to decide the district champion. And true to form, both squads scored twice. The Lady Jackets’ Emily Barnwell and Kayla James would find the net as well as the Lady Bears’ Kali Blevins and Hannah Pittman.

In the end, it was MHS junior midfielder Amber Mullins, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, who would send the crowd home with her game-winning goal and deliver the Lady Jackets the district championship 3-2.

With the win, Middlesboro improves to 4-10 on the season, while Harlan County falls to 7-5.

Both squads will advance to compete in the 13th Region tournament next week in Williamsburg at The University of the Cumberlands. Match-ups will be announced over the weekend.