By Tim Chambers
JOHNSON CITY— Knocking off Science Hill’s sister school to get to the Middle Nine soccer championship game was a huge accomplishment for gutsy T.A. Dugger, but taking down an undefeated Goliath to win the top prize would prove to be too giant of a task.
Science Hill scored early and often in its 8-0 win over the Cyclones on a rainy Monday inside of Kermit Tipton Stadium.
A pair of goals by Adam Morelegan with less than seven minutes elapsed in the early going would set the tone for the very athletic Jr. Hilltoppers. ’Betsy battled hard until the final horn, which drew praise from its head coach, Michelle Butler.
“I’m so proud of these kids for the way they stepped up and played this entire tournament,” said Butler. “Nobody expected us to be here, but after we beat Indian Trail we just wanted to come out today and give it our best. This game is not indicative as to how well these kids during the tournament, but we got to play everybody and that’s a good thing. Science Hill is just a superior team. They’re in a league of their own.”
The Cyclones had lost to Indian Trail twice during the regular season and needed a victory to reach the finals. The two teams fought to a scoreless tie for 60 minutes before overtime would decide the outscore.
Chris Schaff lobbed a perfect kick just over the goalie and into the net, propelling them into the title contest. Butler agreed it was an unbelievable shot that beat the Hawks.
“Chris said he didn’t think he could make that shot again if he attempted it several times,” said Butler. “It was definitely a huge lift for us.”
The ’Toppers, on this night, would get revenge for its little sister.
Danny O’Leary scored at the 21:20 mark to make it 3-0.
Gus Miller delivered a perfect corner kick to set up Tim Clements for Science Hill’s next goal to make it 4-0 with 2:24 remaining in the half.
Schaff and Hunter Vines did an excellent job of advancing the ball up the field during the final three minutes, but an attempted Cyclone goal sailed wide before the half ended.
The ’Toppers started the second half much like the first. Austin Inancsi got loose at the 28:10 mark and drove one through the net for their fifth goal.
Yimi Leyva upped their total to a half dozen by splitting two defenders with his lone goal.
Elizabethton had a couple of shots just miss the mark. Stephen Wilson sent one toward the net, but goalie Zander Bennett was Johnny on the spot to scoop it up and send it back downfield. Adam Kock’s save of Vines’ attempted goal in the first half was also worth mentioning.
The Hilltoppers tacked on two more goals for some added insurance.
Morelegan took a nice assist from O’Leary to account for one of them. Fulton Robinson delivered the other to account for all of the Science Hill scoring.
The ’Toppers were aided by a fantastic blue-collar effort from their backline standout Cody Howard. Several times he cut off potential scorers with his hustle and fancy footwork. Not one time did he ever send a kick back down field out of bounds.
“We have a lot of kids that continue playing outside of school ball in clubs, leagues and such — and that helps,” said ’Toppers head coach David Strickland. “This is a pretty athletic group of kids. I thought we passed the ball and move it around well tonight. T.A. Dugger did a good job of getting to the championship game. The win they had over Indian Trail in the semifinals was very impressive.”
’Betsy got some excellent midfield play throughout the tournament from Vines, Dante Callahan, Hayden Townsend and Isaac Money. Blaye Davis emerged late in the season to provide some good play. Michael Robinson stood out as a top-notch defender over the entire season. Tanner Barb, Ben Brown, Troy Spivey, Drew Blackwell, Nathan Clark, Cody Dugger, Cody Griffith, Noah Lovelace, Ben Marshall, Mason Yates, Logan Bradley and Dylan Nordby were other team players who were vital in TAD’s success as well.
“We sort of shook up the tournament by getting here,” said Butler about her Junior Cyclones. “It wasn’t just two or three players. The entire team did a great job of helping us get here. It would be hard to single out anyone without mentioning all of them.”
Science Hill ended its season on a perfect 11-0 note. The Cyclones were 7-5-1 improving on their third place finish in the conference.