For the first time since – no, wait, for the first time ever – Lincoln County has claimed a district soccer title.
The Lincoln boys earned a place in school history Thursday night by defeating Pulaski County 4-2 in the championship game of the 30th District Tournament.
“It feels so good,” said Lincoln coach Wendy Peters, soaking wet from a drenching of Gatorade and a postgame rainfall. “It was a long-time coming. This team of boys played with every ounce of heart that they had and they deserved to finally get that district title.”
The soccer Patriots had been after that elusive district title since the sport was introduced at LCHS in 1988, and, after a first-ever runner-up finish last season, they finally reached their goal with the come-from-behind win.
Pulaski, the No. 5 seed in the tourney, came into the final off a 2-1 upset victory over top-seeded Somerset, and the Maroons took full advantage of that momentum. They were in control for most of the first half and held a 2-0 lead with just under two minutes to go.
But it would be tied by halftime. In the closing minutes of the half, Jacob Gourley scored off a deflection for No. 2 seed Lincoln, then Austin Grigsby punched in a shot from 20 yards out to tie the game and set off a string of four unanswered goals.
“Those two goals were game-changing goals. We knew what it felt like to be here. We knew what it felt like to lose this game,” Peters said. “These boys weren’t here to lose. Our mind-set, our spirit and our heart were just not going to let that happen again.”
Gourley didn’t just happen to be standing around when he scored to get Lincoln (13-5-1) on the scoreboard. He was matching the speed of Carter Dunn as Dunn dribbled the ball up the middle on Pulaski goalkeeper Hunter Jones. After Jones deflected Dunn’s shot, Gourley moved in from the left side of goal for the putback.
“That is being at your position at the right time and capitalizing on it,” said Peters. “That’s experience. That’s the experience that I kind of boasted about, the skill level, the speed, the height – everything that we have. He knew where to be, he anticipated the creation of that opportunity and he executed on it. He hit and then Austin hit. It was back-to-back real quick.”
Lincoln’s offense dominated the second half. The soccer Patriots, who had 29 shots on goal for the night, controlled the ball for most of the 40-minute period, outshooting Pulaski 14-3.
“I felt our offensive strength in the second half was very good,” said Peters. “As we have seen many times throughout this season, and we saw Tuesday evening, halftime really gives us a chance to regroup and come back out better.”
Carl-Lewis Cummins broke the tie in the fourth minute of the second half, punching in a left-footed shot to put the soccer Patriots up 3-2.
It was one of two goals for Cummins in the title game. He buried a free kick with 16:32 to play to put the finishing touches on the soccer Pats’ win.
There was no big on-field celebration after Cummins’ second shot, though. After a team hug at midfield, the soccer Patriots went back to work to preserve their lead.
“The clock wasn’t over yet. There was more work to be done and they know you play it to that last second,” said Peters. “You lose with grace and win with class. You’ve got to keep that thought in your mind. If you are down, you play harder and, if you are up, you still finish with class.”
Pulaski’s Justin Tilley scored on the first shot of the game just 45 seconds in, and the Maroons (6-13-1) made it 2-0 midway through the first half when Austin Byrd trapped a missed shot on goal and kicked it in behind Lincoln goalkeeper David Greene
“That first goal was an extremely good shift for Pulaski County. It sent them out strong and they played strong the whole half,” Peters said.
Lincoln actually had more shots on goal than Pulaski the first half, 15-7, but the quick hands and feet of Jones denied the soccer Pats on most attempts. Jones had 13 saves overall.
“You have to give credit to him,” said Peters. “We had some great shots tonight and he made some great saves.”
As the district champion, Lincoln moves on to face 29th District runner-up Mercer County in the Region 15 Tournament at Danville. Mercer, the No.1 seed in the 29th, fell 1-0 to Danville in the championship game Thursday.
“And we play on. These boys knew how it felt to come out on the bottom of it (title game) and now they know how it feels to come out on top. And they have a chance to accomplish even more next week,” said Peters. “This program, this group of boys, our depth, our skills, experience, the talent: it’s just getting better every year.”
Dakota Brown, Somerset; Austin Byrd, Pulaski.; Carl-Lewis Cummins, Lincoln; Carter Dunn, Lincoln; Pablo Garcia, Southwestern; Jacob Gourley, Lincoln; Austin Grigsby, Lincoln; Skyler Hunt, Somerset; Hunter Jones, Pulaski; Jordan Jones, Southwestern; Yobany Pastor-Baten, Monticello; Justin Tilley, Pulaski.