Trailing 2-1 heading into halftime, Ken Wheeler wasn’t happy with the way his team was playing. He was happy with how his team responded at halftime.
After attempting only two shots in the first half, Ashland went on to defeat Russell 6-4 on Tuesday at the Russell Soccer Complex.
With his team struggling to find its offensive groove, Wheeler was happy that his captains who were upset with how the first half was played.
“We just came out flat,” Wheeler said. “Our senior captains, (Jacob) Day, (Robert) Wesley and (Jacob) Belville said they weren’t going to leave here with a loss. You saw everyone just followed them.”
In the first half, it seemed like Ashland couldn’t get past Russell’s back line, with many through passes being intercepted before reaching the box.
Russell (5-3-2) scored the first goal of the game in the ninth minute after Bryce Fowler punched the ball to the back of the net off a Patrick Soucy assist.
The Red Devils expanded its first-half lead after Kurtis Miller scored on a sliding kick. The goal was set up by a Joey Fischer crossing pass.
Ashland didn’t get a shot attempt until the 32nd minute. But Russell coach Marty Torgrimson said after a strong start to the game, his team started to get a little more flat-footed.
“Our guys have a tendency to sit back after they score a few goals,” Torgrimson said. “(Ashland) took advantage and was able to score. That started to get into our head.”
Ashland (8-4) finally got on the board in the 38th minute after a Hunter Gullett goal.
“We told Hunter to just go and good things would happen,” Wheeler said. “That was just a hustle goal and he earned that. It was a big goal, pulling within one at halftime was just huge.”
Ashland got an equalizer from McKenzie Malloy that tied the game 44 seconds into the second half.
Fischer gave Russell the lead back a few seconds later with a penalty kick. But Ashland took control by scoring three straight goals to take a 5-3 lead.
John Pina scored first in the 43rd minute, making a good move on the keeper following a pass from Brandon Clark.
The Tomcats then scored on two free kicks. In the 49th minute, Wesley sent a free kick from outside the box that Day headed into the goal between the keeper’s legs.
In the 58th minute Wesley tried to score on the free kick but it hit the crossbar. Day then tracked the ball down and then fired it past the defender for the goal.
“We spend a lot of time after practice working on our free kicks and we have a lot of confidence in our senior leadership,” Wheeler said. “Jacob Day is just a man out there. When he wants to score there are not too many people, one-on-one, who are going to handle him.”
Trailing 5-3, Russell got another goal from Fischer in the 63rd minute, who scored off a nice combination of passes from Soucy and Fowler.
Failing to stop Ashland’s free kicks and fight Ashland’s 10 shots on goal in the second half, doomed the Red Devils in the end.
“We were being too lazy in trying to win the ball,” Torgrimson said. “Then we some stupid events happened again. Unfortunately that’s the nature of the game. Not always the best team wins, it’s sometimes the team that works a little bit harder than the other.”
Ashland got one more late goal from Pina, who finessed a goal over a charging Russell goalkeeper in the 70th minute of the game.
Wheeler said last night’s game was what will take his team to the next level — finishing with goals against a good team.
“We got down 2-0, but we showed a lot of character by coming back,” Wheeler said. “We showed a lot of character, a lot of heart and we finished really well tonight. We have a very good defensive team, but our offense finished very well tonight.”
With the win, Ashland is now 2-1 in the district while Russell is 1-2.
Both Russell and Ashland have wins over each other, with Russell winning the earlier matchup on Aug. 27.
“It’s anybody’s district,” Wheeler said. “I’ve been here six years and the talent level in this area keeps getting better.”
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658.