CANNONSBURG Matthew Jimison got another chance.
Ashland's goalkeeper protected a one-goal lead in the 63rd District Tournament semifinals as Russell's Ben Hammond approached him one-on-one from the right side of the box with less than four and a half minutes to play. Jimison had let a shot from the Red Devils' Blake Hern skip off his hands and across the goal line in a similar situation 15 minutes earlier.
It didn't happen again.
"I saw (Hammond) coming," Jimison said. "I was like, I can either stay back, try to make the save, or come out and cut the angles he has. I came out, I got the save and we cleared it. It was a great feeling."
The Tomcats shared that feeling minutes later, polishing off a 3-2 victory over upset-minded Russell on Monday night at Boyd County.
Ashland had knocked off the Red Devils twice by a combined score of 12-2 in the regular season. But Russell hung close enough Monday to have a chance to tie in the final minutes.
"Give credit to Russell," Tomcats coach Preston Freeman said. "They came out and fought hard and made the game as ugly as they possibly could. They made it tough on us. We weren't ever really able to get in a sync. We possessed the ball a lot, we had most of the run of play, but we just couldn't really string it together in the offensive third.
"We stayed the course, we kept playing hard, and we didn't get down again."
Drew Clark scored two goals for Ashland in his first significant minutes at the top of the Tomcats' formation and Ben Acuff's 63rd-minute free kick from 35 yards out bounced in the Russell box, off the Red Devils keeper's hands and into the net.
"A district game, a region game, stuff like this, they're never gonna be clean and perfect and pretty," Freeman said. "Sometimes it's gonna be ugly, and winning ugly means something too."
Clark had two goals on the season entering Monday's game. He'd doubled that output by the time it was over.
Clark outran a Red Devils defender to chase down a long Calyx Holmes through ball in the final seconds of the first half, and he followed his own shot with a rebound tally in the 52nd minute.
"I saw something in him," Freeman said of the Ashland sophomore, "and the kid can go put goals in the back of the net. For a guy that doesn't usually score a bunch of goals, he gave us two huge goals tonight."
The Tomcats (6-4-1) needed both of them, and then some. Russell (1-10-1) went ahead in the 22nd minute when Nathan Totten took advantage of Jimison being out of the goal mouth.
Clark's goals bookended intermission before Hern took Hammond's through ball and tallied in the 61st minute to tie it again.
"We had a good game plan," Red Devils coach Randy Vanover said. "We executed pretty well. The guys just bought into what we were talking about. I can't be disappointed with their fight. ... If we'd have come out here and gave up six goals, I'd have been really disappointed, but I can't be disappointed with their fight tonight, I really can't."
The second tie was short-lived, though. Acuff's free kick saw to that, and Jimison's mitts protected the lead.
"Keepers gotta come up with big saves in big minutes," Freeman said, himself a former All-State goalie for the Tomcats. "(Jimison) plays keeper the way that I told him to play keeper. It's an aggressive style and he makes a lot of really big saves. ... He rebounded, and that's what keepers do."
Russell turned to Braden Rucker, whose playing time between the pipes coming into Monday's contest amounted to about one half of one game last week, according to Vanover, in the net. He effectively helped the Red Devils stay close, as did an energized Russell midfield and back line.
Ashland advances to Wednesday's district tournament final against tournament host Boyd County and to the 16th Region Tournament, which begins Saturday at the same facility.
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