Russell and Ashland are accustomed to meeting in the boys district soccer final, with both teams automatically moving on to the regional level.
The rivals faced a different scenario Tuesday night, playing an elimination game in the 63rd District Tournament semifinals.
Russell moved out to a two-goal lead in the first 15 minutes, fended off a Tomcat comeback and went on to a 3-1 victory at Tom Scott Field.
“It’s a real good win,” Red Devils coach Joe Grizzle said. “I’m just glad our guys decided to step it up, focus in the second half and get the job done. Tonight it was do or die.”
Ashland and Russell went head-to-head in the previous three district title matches and 10 of 12 since 2000. This time, however, they were playing for a spot opposite top-seeded Boyd County, a 10-0 winner over Rose Hill Christian in Tuesday’s first semifinal game.
Russell, the two-time defending regional champion, is happy to extend its long streak of advancing to the district finals and regional tournament.
“It’s always a given that we should get there,” midfielder Taylor Hall said. “It’s expected. The bar is set high after winning back-to-back regions.”
Hall, one of only two seniors on the Red Devils’ roster, contributed to the team’s fast start Tuesday. Teammate Patrick Soucy showed some nice footwork and slipped a pass to Hall, who drilled the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead.
Russell, 9-11 against a tough schedule, scored on two its first four shots. Earlier, Soucy knocked in a rebound of a Trevor Rigsby shot.
“We got down those two early goals and just dug ourselves into a hole too deep,” Ashland coach Ken Wheeler said. “We had the effort. We had opportunities, but just couldn’t finish.”
Ashland outshot Russell 13-8 in the first half, but trailed 2-1. The Tomcats’ goal came from Robert Wesley with nine minutes left in the half, with Alex Hamlin helping on the set up. A few minutes before, teammate Mackenzie Mulloy sent a shot off the crossbar.
“Ashland played hard and really came back on us after we got out to the 2-0 lead,” Grizzle said. “They have good players and are well coached. They had some strings of five and six minutes where they were putting all kinds of pressure.”
Russell weathered the storm, then regained momentum in the second half while outshooting the Tomcats 13-8.
Joey Fischer made it 3-1, finishing a long a long pass into the box from Rigsby.
Red Devil freshman goalkeeper Michael Scaggs played a key role with several big stops.
“Michael doesn’t play like a freshman,” Grizzle said. “He’s probably 5-7, or 5-8 if you are stretching him, but he plays hard and moves laterally real well.”
Russell beat Ashland for the third consecutive time this season and will try to avenge a 6-2 to Boyd County on Thursday at 7 p.m.
“Boyd County will be a tough matchup,” Hall said. “We played them the first game of the season. A lot has changed since then.”
Boyd County 10
Rose Hill 0
The Lions (10-6-1) honored their nine seniors before the first semifinal, then dominated a small-in-numbers Rose Hill squad with only one win this season.
The game lasted just one half.
Zach Vincent, one of Boyd County’s top seniors, dribbled through defenders repeatedly to score four goals and assisted another.
Ryan Whitt, another key senior in the Lions’ attack, finished with two goals and three assists.
“A lot of those guys I’ve had since sixth grade, when I coached middle school,” Boyd County coach William Ferguson said.
Junior Jonah Black supplied two goals and an assist, while sophomore Reid Rowsey also scored twice.