Elizabethtown jumped on host John Hardin early and rode it to a 5-3 victory Tuesday in the 17th District Tournament.
The Panthers (13-6-1) meet North Hardin (6-14-2) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at John Hardin for the championship.
The Trojans defeated Central Hardin, 3-2 in a shootout.
“We know whoever wins this next game it’s going to be a battle Thursday, Elizabethtown coach Corey Yates said.
Panthers junior Andrew Ballard scored early for a 1-0 lead and Matthew Musgrave made it 2-0 from a Luis Gomez assist at 27:28.
John Hardin’s Dakota Wilson connected on a penalty kick at 23:00, but Ballard’s left-footer from the left side extended the lead to 3-1 12:51 before halftime.
“We’ve been working building out of the back, finding the opposite wing and getting those crosses in to get scoring opportunities,” Musgrave said.
A Cole Varela flick off a Bryan Herringshaw throw-in made it 4-1 at 31:21 of the second half.
Musgrave scored his second less than four minutes later for a 5-1 cushion.
“We wanted to make sure these guys, the top 11, 12, 13 got some rest and didn’t get over utilized today,” Yates said. “We’re giving them no excuses Thursday to play a very acceptable, efforted game. I was proud of the way we came out. We limited a lot of space for them to work with when we didn’t have the ball. when we did have the ball, we made a lot of very good decisions up until around the 18.”
“We are so unselfish, then we get that close to goal and we fail to recognize to put together that last piece. I can’t fault our team too much because they took care of business like they’re supposed to do.
“I give a lot of credit to John Hardin they battled and had a couple goals there at the end.”
John Hardin’s Angel Diaz scored at 17:21 to make it 5-2 and Zach Owens scored at 4:02 for the final tally.
“It was really good,” first-year Bulldogs coach Kevin Stafford said of the 8-13 season. “We had some hiccups. Not too fond of the overall record. That just means we have to put in more work for next year. There’s a lot I learned a lot and I grew on and a lot the players grew on and we just got better. That is a good sign.
“The happy part about tonight is they didn’t give up and that’s the main thing that I want. I’ve always told them, ‘Battle to the end. Battle to the end.’”
That’s what happened as John Hardin has a solid foundation to build upon as it loses three seniors to graduation.
“Believing in themselves, actually getting back and working to get better,” Stafford said of a an area of improvement he saw throughout the season with his club. “Motivation. Their conditioning has improved through the roof compared to last year. They actually stay positive the majority of the time and supported each other. Those are the two places where I think we’ve had the most growth.
“I tell them you never know who’s watching our game and you always want to be motivational. You always want to show that you’ll never give up. That’s how you can separate yourself from somebody who’s just as good as you — your attitude. You can either help get your team better, don’t give up or you can be a great player and have an attitude. when it comes down to those thing to the college coach, they will always pick the player with a better attitude.”
Elizabethtown earned a 2-1 over North Hardin in the last meeting Sept. 26.
“We just have to give it our all, every minute and every second of the game,” Musgrave said.