By Michael Lindsay
Two second-half goals were the difference Tuesday evening as the Cumberland County Jets defeated Kingston in the Region 3/AA soccer semifinals, 2-1.
“Possession wise, this might’ve been our best game of the year,” said CCHS head coach Cub Whitson. “It was pretty soccer from the opening whistle to the end. Unfortunately, we’re still not quite getting our finishing at 30%. Once we fix that, we’ll be really tough. Defensively, we looked great. We need to take advantage of the moments in front of the goal.”
The victory advances Cumberland County to Thursday’s region championship game and automatically qualifies them for the Class 2A sectional round on Saturday with a state tournament berth on the line.
Tuesday’s game vs. Kingston was delayed by more than an hour due to lightning, but the Jets were uniquely prepared for the situation.
“Yesterday at practice was a perfect setup; we came out to practice and were told there’s lightning in the area,” Whitson said. “We were scrambling trying to figure out what to do, and Mr. Lowe at Phoenix let us in over there. The focus and intensity in that small frame with all that distraction was phenomenal. It was very mature of the boys to be dialed in like that, and I think that helped coming into tonight.”
Neither team found the scoreboard in the first half as they entered the halftime break tied at 0.
Cumberland County broke through with 32:10 remaining as freshman Nikki Azzani scored from in front of the goal to give the Jets a 1-0 lead.
“We were playing with a lot of confidence, even though we hadn’t scored yet,” Whitson said. “You could just feel it coming.”
Cumberland County tacked on an insurance goal with 57 seconds remaining as freshman Tyler Phillips beat the Kingston keeper 1-on-1 to put a goal in the right corner of the net, giving the Jets a 2-0 lead.
“We were putting a lot of pressure and putting the ball in dangerous areas,” Whitson said. “Relentless is the word. Putting the ball where it needs to be, and eventually it pays off.”
Kingston responded with a penalty-kick goal with 7 seconds left, but it wouldn’t be enough as the Jets finished the game with a 2-1 victory.
Thursday’s region championship at CCHS will feature two familiar foes as Cumberland County will face DeKalb County for the fourth time this season. The Jets are 3-0 agains the Tigers this season with a 3-1 victory and two 1-0 wins.
“They’ve got two of the most dangerous forwards in 2A soccer,” Whitson said. “We know what to expect, and it’s going to be the mental side that wins it. It’s tough to beat a team 3 times and even harder to beat them 4 times.”
Regardless of Thursday’s outcome, both Cumberland County and DeKalb County will advance to Saturday’s Class 2A sectional with a state tournament berth on the line. Potential sectional opponents for both programs are Signal Mountain and East Hamilton.