BOYS' PREP SOCCER: John Hardin pulls away from North Hardin late (09/25)

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By Nathaniel Bryan

Almost every time Jeremy Garcia turned around Tuesday night, North Hardin standout sophomore defender Tino Morales was in the face of the John Hardin senior scoring star. And on the off chance Garcia got by Morales, he usually had another defender standing in the way of him and the goal as the visiting Trojans dropped their stopper deep into the goal mouth.


With everything seemingly going against him, Garcia still managed to have one of his best games of the season as he was involved in all of his team’s goals as the 20th-rankled Bulldogs kept alive their chance at earning the No. 1 seed for next month’s 17th District Tournament at Fort Knox with a 4-1 win over reigning 5th Region Tournament champion North Hardin.

“He was shadowing me the whole game long,” Garcia said of Morales’ stifling defense. “He was always in my face and when he kept tackling the ball away, I did get frustrated. But my coaches kept telling me to settle down and play my game.”

For a majority of the game, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer was OK serving as the set-up man. Dribbling along the right wing, Garcia hit Christian Bonifield with a pass and the junior put it away with 27:11 left in the first half for his 10th goal in 11 games.

Even with the Trojans (7-10, 4-4 district) gaining strength offensively, the Bulldogs (11-2-1, 4-1) carried their 1-0 lead midway through the second half – when things got crazy. In a span of 3:31, John Hardin went from leading to being tied to leading again thanks to a pair of rapid-fire penalty kicks.

“We definitely had the momentum the first 15 minutes of the second half,” said North Hardin coach Jim Stone, whose team needed to win to have a chance to earn the district tournament’s No. 2 seed. “Those kind of changed the momentum. That was ridiculous. That was poor officiating. At least it was consistently poor.”

After a North Hardin player was taken down in the Bulldogs’ 18-yard box on a free kick with 25:13 left in the game, junior Isaiah Linscott tucked away the penalty kick for his fourth goal of the year and tying the score at 1.

“We had to continue to believe in ourselves, brush it off, pick our heads back up and keep playing the way we know how to play,” Bonifield said of giving up the lead.

With 22:43 left in the match, Garcia tried taking on Morales deep in the right side of the Trojans’ box. Stone said he thought it looked like Garcia slipped from his viewpoint, but the Bulldogs were given a penalty kick and senior Zach Jaquess put it in the right side of the net to become the third Bulldog this season with at least 10 goals.

The goal also gave the Bulldogs the lead for good as they buried the Trojans with three goals in a 17-minute span.

“I was most pleased with the way we responded because when your team is in the lead for a really long time and you lose the lead on a PK like that, you can go either way,” said John Hardin coach Alex Shearer. “You just hope your team goes in the right direction.”

With Garcia leading the way, that direction was a winning one.

Morales was able to get in front of a ball played by Garcia along the left wing, but the ball shot out to Bonifield, who scored for the 11th time this year.

Stone pulled his starters with 6:15 left in the match immediately following Garcia’s 18th goal in 14 games off a feed from senior Jacob Drexler.

“He’s a good player,” Stone said of Garcia. “We had a man on him all night and we played our sweeper deep and we learned our lesson from it. We definitely won’t do that again if we’re lucky enough to play them again in the district (tournament).”

Depending on how Thursday night’s home showdown with 13th-ranked Central Hardin goes, the Bulldogs could see the Trojans for a third and final time in the district tournament semifinals. Central Hardin would earn the No. 1 seed outright with a win, while John Hardin must win Thursday, Saturday against Elizabethtown and next week against Fort Knox to earn the No. 1 seed in a tiebreaker with Central Hardin as both teams would finish with 7-1 district records in that situation.

“All of that wouldn’t have even mattered if we had lost tonight,” Garcia said. “But Thursday is almost going to be like a district final with both teams fighting for the No. 1 seed. So it’s a big game for both teams.”

UP NEXT: John Hardin hosts Central Hardin at 7 p.m. Thursday. North Hardin hosts Marion County at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at 270-505-1758 or nbryan@thenewsenterprise.com.