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With his underdog team coming off an emotional tie Tuesday against reigning state champion Louisville St. Xavier, Central Hardin coach Mike Wiersema wondered if his Bruins would have anything left in the tank Thursday night when they hosted 17th District rival John Hardin. The visiting Bulldogs came to Cecilia riding a high of their own, having crushed reigning 5th Region Tournament champion North Hardin on Monday night.
But with Jordan Mabe refueled, the senior attacker drove the Bruins past the Bulldogs, 3-1.
“We knew we had a challenge coming our way because they’re not a bad team,” said Central Hardin senior defender Anthony Hall. “We knew we had to get focused for this game.”
Mabe sat out Tuesday because he hadn’t been cleared from a concussion. And he missed last season because he transferred to Bardstown Bethlehem, so Thursday marked his first regular-season game for the Bruins since Oct. 4, 2011.
“It felt good to be out there again,” said Mabe, a starter on the Bruins’ state tournament final four team in 2010. “I know everyone has their doubts about me, so I just have to let the ball do the work and get results.”
Mabe gave the Bruins (1-0-1 overall, 1-0 district) the lead for good with 16:45 left in the first half. After taking a pass from senior center midfielder Zach Fonda on the right side of the field, Mabe dribbled to his left and sent a left-footed shot into the left side of the net.
“Fonda just kind of laid it off to me, so I just touched it once and put it in with my left foot,” Mabe said.
An opportunistic Fonda sent the Bruins into the half with a two-goal lead when he pounced on a defensive miscue near the Bulldogs’ goal.
“One of their players just passed it to me, so I just tapped it into the goal,” Fonda said.
The teams played even after halftime with John Hardin sophomore Michael Dean and Central Hardin junior Jordan Smith notching second-half goals. Smith was credited with the goal with 25:19 left in the game when his 40-yard direct kick deflected off a defender, while Dean broke up the shutout with 14:51 left with a penalty kick – which was awarded more than a minute after the Bruins’ committed a hand ball in their 18-yard box.
“The good thing is we get to see them again and we would have the tiebreaker at home,” said John Hardin coach Alex Shearer. “Even though those are good things, but you still have to go out and play, especially in the first half. I thought we played well in the second half, but you still have to play all 80 minutes.”
With a young team and a challenging schedule, Central Hardin struggled defensively most of last season, giving up three or more goals 10 times.
But the defense is starting to come into its own. Thursday marked the fifth straight game the Bruins have kept their opponents from scoring multiple goals.
“Our defense has done really well since last year,” Hall said. “Our headers are getting better and we’re trying to win every ball out of the air. And we’re trying to get our outside backs involved in the attack.”
In their last three games, the Bruins have not given up a goal in the run of play. North Hardin scored off a corner kick in last year’s region tournament final, St. Xavier scored on a free kick Tuesday and John Hardin scored on a penalty kick Thursday.
“We’re light years ahead of last year and ultimately our defense is going to decide how far we’re going to go,” Wiersema said. “I’m not worried about our attack because we move the ball fairly well and I think we’ll manufacture chances. So it’s a question about our defense, but they’ve come a long way.”
UP NEXT: Central Hardin plays at North Hardin at 7 p.m. Thursday. John Hardin hosts Marion County at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Nathaniel Bryancan be reached at 270-505-1758 or email@example.com.