First-year East Carter boys soccer coach Billy Kemper has team members believing in themselves as well as his defense-first approach to the game.
On Thursday night, excitement engulfed the visitors’ bench area after the Raiders defeated Ashland 3-1.
“A lot of exuberance,” is how defensive midfielder Bradley Marsh described it. “Ashland is the best team we played so far.”
East Carter, now 8-1-3, registered two lopsided wins earlier this week and has been pointing toward the matchup with the Tomcats.
“They had beaten Russell and Boyd County,” Marsh said of Ashland. “Beating them helps us, but we haven’t won anything yet until we win the region.”
That’s the kind of mindset Kemper continues to mold. The 41-year-old was a soccer pro in Germany and coached at the club level in northeastern Kentucky for three years before accepting the East Carter job.
“He has played professionally, so he knows what he’s doing,” said Marsh, a four-year starter. “He brought that experience and knowledge to our level.“
Kemper said the squad has bought into his message about the power of teamwork.
“We don’t have one guy that’s a star,” the coach said. “We have 11 on the field willing to learn, and they have learned. Now, they have started believing in themselves.”
Kemper said his team came in pumped up about playing the Tomcats.
“I told the kids, ‘If you want respect, you have to beat Ashland,’” Kemper said. “I want to see us get to the point where we are being compared to Ashland, Russell and Rowan County. I want these boys to be respected by those teams. We took a big step toward that tonight.”
East Carter took a 2-0 halftime lead and stretched it to 3-0 early in the second half.
Ashland coach Ken Wheeler tipped his cap to the Raiders afterwards.
“They are a good team, a quality team,” Wheeler said. “They played a style we hadn’t seen. We played to their strength, not ours.”
Kemper emphasizes a tactical defensive strategy designed to keep tight spacing.
“He gets a lot of people behind the ball,” Wheeler said. “It looks like they play a lot for set pieces. They scored on two throw-ins and a breakaway. We didn’t adjust to their style of play. We tried to go straight through them and that’s not going to work.”
Ashland (9-6) outshot the Raiders 10-6 in the first half but couldn’t get the ball into the goal.
East Carter broke through in the 18th minute when Ryan Walker scored on a header off Tristan Hall’s throw-in. Hall also assisted Evan Huddle’s goal with just under eight minutes remaining in the half.
Shortly after the break, senior striker Seth Marsh broke free and drilled a shot into the net to give the Raiders a three-goal advantage.
Bradley and Seth make up two-thirds of the Marsh brother trio in East Carter’s starting lineup. Michael, a sophomore, is the goalkeeper and played an active role in limiting Ashland to one goal.
Although the Tomcats posted a 9-3 shot advantage in the second half, they had to work to wade through Raider defenders, especially up the middle. Ashland immediately answered Seth Marsh’s score with a goal from Jacob Belville, but there was no scoring in the final 37 minutes.
“Ashland has such good players, but if you take away the space it makes it tougher for them,” Kemper said.