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Walnut Hills Beats Covington Catholic in Home Opener

posted Aug 28, 2016, 5:30 PM by Eric Rothwell   [ updated Aug 29, 2016, 3:27 AM ]

Walnut Hills Beats Covington Catholic in Home Opener

Written by: Ethan Bensman

The stands were full of supporters Thursday night as the Walnut Hills men’s varsity soccer team took on Covington Catholic Colonels in the Eagles’ home opener. USA Today had ranked the Colonels the eleventh team in the nation, and the anticipation for Eagles’ fans was high as they knew this game was as tough as it could get. Their team was undoubtedly the underdog, ranked just the eleventh best team in Cincinnati alone.

The Colonels started out hot, as they earned and nearly converted a one-on-one chance with Eagles’ keeper Michael Flanagan only three minutes into the match. Flanagan proved himself early, going to ground on a heroic save that would set the tone for the rest of his game.

The Eagles’ offense heated up around the 9th minute, when they had their first real chance of the game. A good combination in the midfield gave Eagles’ sophomore Jake Hipskind all kinds of space down the left wing, leaving the Colonels wide open for an attack. Hipskind dribbled down the wing and sent in a low-flying cross to Eagles’ striker Randall Smallwood, who was inches from finding the back of the net. Hipskind and Smallwood’s continued combination throughout the match was headache for the Colonels, who repeatedly gave up chances to the speedy duo.

From here, the Eagles earned a flurry of scoring chances against their opponents. After a drive down the sideline almost ended in a direct corner kick goal for Walnut senior Kian Eghbalnia, it was clear the Eagles’ offense was operating at full force. Sophomore Weston Thweatt pressured down the left side and found repeated chances for the Eagles in the attack, as he and junior Colin Moreno time and time again slashed through the Colonels’ back lines.

The game continued for a while in a scoreless deadlock, but in the twentieth minute, the Hipskind-Smallwood pair finally proved to be too much for the Colonels. In a two versus four counterattack, Smallwood and Hipskind combined repeatedly, with Smallwood ending the run by dribbling Covington Catholic’s keeper and finding Hipskind in the middle for an easy put-away. The Eagles had taken the lead against the 11th ranked team in the nation, and the passionate celebration that followed reflected the thrill of this amazing moment for the Walnut soccer program.

There were a few close calls around the half-hour mark, but when the whistles signaled halftime, the score remained 1-0. The game was a tale of two halves for the Eagles, who looked largely dominant for the first, but clearly felt the pressure in the second. The Colonels owned possession and the most of the chances in the second half, putting the Eagles’ under a constant barrage of attacks. Fatigue started to factor in against Walnut, as they had some trouble keeping the ball on the Colonels’ side of the field for the last twenty minutes of the game.

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As the second half wore on and the Colonels got desperate, organization in the back and midfield was key for the Eagles. Center backs Trevor Ewing and Walter Maras lead the charge in conducting their team’s structure throughout the night, and continued to have no problem keeping their team in line in the clutch. Even when the defense wasn’t enough, Eagles keeper Michael Flanagan was always up to the challenge, tallying eleven saves in the second half alone.

Despite a last second push from the Colonels, when the buzzer sounded, the Eagles came out on top. The fans and players gathered on the field to celebrate as the underdogs from Walnut Hills took down the Covington Catholic soccer juggernaut. This was the first win of the season for the Eagles, who look hopeful to top the ECC in soccer this year. Watch them Saturday at 7 PM at Colerain High School as Walnut fights for their second interconference win of the season.