Before Greenup County’s boys soccer team boarded the bus for its first-ever trip to the region soccer semifinals, head coach Andy Zabrieszack figured the moment called for special inspiration.
“He said to go out and shock the region,” senior forward Zach Hutchinson said.
For outsiders, it may have seemed like idle dreaming for a program with a history of one losing season after another.
But this group of Musketeers, including 11 seniors, pulled off a stunner by knocking off two-time defending region champion Russell 4-3 on Thursday night at Bill Ticknor Field.
Afterwards, Greenup County players, coaches and fans reveled in the moment.
“We’ve never been here before,” Hutchinson said. “It’s a new experience. Honestly, we never expected anything like this.”
Zabrieszack, who was doused with a cooler of water on the sideline, couldn’t stop smiling as he reflected on the accomplishment.
“It defines this year for us,” he said. “It’s a big win for sure. I’m proud of all of them. They kept their heads up and knew they had to bring everything they had.”
The 16th Region championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday will feature two new finalists. Boyd County, one of the preseason favorites, defeated East Carter 2-0 in Thursday’s nightcap.
“We started the season with one goal,” Lions coach William Ferguson said. “Our mantra was been to win the next game.”
Greenup County (9-8-2) now has two wins in its first regional appearance. After beating Fleming County 2-1 in a quarterfinal match Tuesday, the Musketeers hadn’t even pulled out of the parking lot before Zabrieszack began the motivation process for the task ahead.
“I told them they had to say, ‘You can beat Russell,’ 200 times every day,” GC’s coach said.
Russell handled the Musketeers 11-2 last month to continue their long-time domination of the series, but Greenup County showed a new resolve Thursday and trailed only once at 1-0 on Patrick Soucy’s goal in the fifth minute.
Hutchinson tied it on a header off Wade Reed’s corner kick with 17:41 remaining in the half. A couple of minutes later, Robbie Dillon put in a shot from close range to put the Musketeers up 2-1.
Russell pulled even as Taylor Hall put in a rebound shot from in front of the goal.
Seth Boyle put Greenup County back in front, before Russell made it 3-3 on Soucy’s second goal. Joey Fischer set it up with a well-placed crossing pass.
Russell, outshot 12-10 in the first 40 minutes, stepped up its attack in the second half but couldn’t get the ball into the net. Hutchinson delivered the decisive goal with another header off a Reed corner kick with 16:15 left. Reed sent the ball to the far post and Hutchinson did the rest.
“When Zach headed that in, I about stroked out,” Zabrieszack said.
Hutchinson, Reed, Cole Redmond and Andrew Zabrieszack — the coach’s son — are seniors who grew up playing soccer together.
“It’s a huge win for our program,” Andrew said. “It will help with rebuilding for the feeder system, getting kids to come out. This is the toughest group of guys I know.”
Boyd County 2
East Carter 0
Jonah Black and sophomore Jordan Smith scored goals for the Lions, while goalkeeper Jaz Stephenson came up with several big stops.
“That was intense,” Ferguson said of the tightly played semifinal match. “Not one moment in that game was I feeling comfortable, even when Jordan scored that second goal.”
Zach Vincent helped set up Smith’s sliding shot into the back of the net with 26 minutes to go.
“Jordan is always there in the clutch,” Ferguson said. “He’s young and quick.”
Stephenson and Boyd County’s defenders made the two goals stand up.
“We couldn’t have done it without Jaz,” Ferguson said. “It’s like you put cellophane over the goal. The back line fought and fought.”
Drew Grubb kicked away a ball before it could bounce into the goal mouth.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Stephenson said. “This is my senior year. I didn’t want to let this one pass and not get to the region championship. We were looking forward to playing Russell again because they beat us in the district (4-2).
Instead it will be Greenup County awaiting Boyd County (12-7-1).
“My wife (Amber) teaches music at Greenup County,” Ferguson said. “That’s going to be a little awkward.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.