For the first time in its history, the Fern Creek boys soccer team is headed to the Elite Eight.
After four previous attempts, the Tigers finally earned their stripes with a 2-1 victory over North Hardin at Mercy Academy on Monday. Fern Creek improved to 19-4-1. North Hardin’s season ended at 20-6-1.
“It feels incredible,” said a choked up John Pedro, head coach of the Tigers. “We’ve worked really hard the last four years and these kids fought harder tonight than a lot of teams I’ve ever coached, and that’s what got us this win. My voice is almost gone. I’m just beside myself at how hard these kids fought. They really wanted it.”
So did North Hardin. The game, played in a drizzle that got steadier as the game progressed, was scoreless through 26 minutes. But at 13:55 Jacob Teasley did his thing, and the Tigers had the lead.
“I got the ball and one guy tried to step in,” said Teasley. “I went around him. I faked a cross over to Kornell (Hilliard), went inside, the defender came inside so I went back outside and just tried to put it on frame. Fortunately it went in. Both teams play it exactly the same way. Get it out wide and get it inside.”
North Hardin was still shaking off the Teasley goal when Fern Creek struck again. This time it was Hilliard, less than two minutes later.
“I did tumbling when I was little,” said Hilliard. “It was coming hard and I didn’t want to hit their keeper so I did a little flip over him. I saw the ball as I was rolling, it hit me, I got back up and tapped it in.”
North Hardin cut the lead in half with 23:55 left on a goal by Anthony Maldonaldo. It came after three stellar saves by Fern Creek goalie Jamison Edwards, who had to make a few more down the stretch to preserve the lead.
“They were coming left and right, up and down, North, West, East, South, that’s how they do it,” said Edwards. “They’re good. We withstood it, though. On to the Elite Eight.”
It wasn’t just a one-man show on defense, though. Several Tigers made tremendous plays getting the ball out of the box in the second half.
“The defense played incredible,” said Pedro. “We’ve been focusing on that the latter half of the season. Getting them to communicate and play as a unit. I thought they did well the other night against Fairdale, but they stepped up their game even more. North Hardin has a really strong attack, but the defense really did it tonight.”
An exhausted Hilliard was asked to describe what he had just been through after the game.
“It was a war,” he said, smiling. “It was crazy. They never stopped. We were just lucky enough to hold on.”
Asked if the hard-fought nature of the game made it worth even more, Edwards laughed.
“It does, but at the same time we’d like to have them all 10-0,” he said.
On this night, the Tigers had to settle on making history.