RETURN TO GLORY!
RETURN TO GLORY!
Elizabethtown’s 1st Region Title in nine years was a long time coming!
History Hasn’t always been Kind to the Panthers
If you look at the Panthers first 5th Region Championship since 2009, you could say that it was a long time coming, but first to understand why, you have to look at how that was . The boys soccer program has always been either very good or just short of being great since 2000. Since Pat Black left the program (he now coaches the Girls Soccer team), they have been a consistant winner which challenged every season up until the present, but other than 2009 were simply unable to get over the hump. Then after Nathan Pitcock stepped down, Rob Zoeller took over and coached both the boys and the girls program at the same time. That happened only one season as the Panthers challenged the powerful Bethlehem Eagles in the Region Final, but lost 2-1 in overtime by a corner kick. Zoeller left to take a college coaching job and Jon Parson’s stepped in and took several talented teams one step away from advancing to state for five straight seasons, but heartbreaking losses to Bethlehem, then John Hardin in two straight shootouts until finally breaking the ice against Bethlehem in 2009. That 5-2 win in the 5th Region Final was the first of what many thought to be many such trips, but after dropping a tough semi-state match to powerful St.Xavier, there would be no more such trips for a while. After losing in the Region Final to Central Hardin 2-1, things got really tough for Elizabethtown as they weathered a rough stretch for three straight seasons before putting together a 16-6 season in 2014 which ended in one of the most heartbreaking losses to John Hardin in the semi-finals of the 17th District Tourney in overtime, 3-2.
Yates takes over
After the John Hardin loss, Parsons stepped down and young assistant coach Corey Yates took over. Yates, who had been a standout athlete in three sports at Elizabethtown in the late 1990’s and early 2000, had been a girls soccer coach at John Hardin while being an assistant softball coach under then head coach Andrew Hundley (who now is with Mark Brown’s football staff at E-Town) there as well. He then took over the Lady Bulldogs softball team after Hundley left for DuPont Manuel and finally stepped down after the 2011 season and resurfaced at Elizabethtown the following season. After being an assistant under Parsons, Yates accepted the head job in 2015 inheriting a very talented and young team and many saw him as a guy on the rise with a group of guys that were just as well, but things weren’t much rosier in the beginning. Despite putting together two straight winning seasons, Yates Panthers dropped consecutive semi-final District Playoff games to North Hardin in 2015 and 2016, 1-0. But in 2017, the Panthers were young talented and ready for primetime sweeping the District schedule and compiling a massive 14-4 record and were odds on favorites to reach the Region Championship. That’s when things including the weather conspired against Yates and the Panthers. In a steady downpour, the Central Hardin Bruins and Panthers slooshed through the wind and rain and struggled to maintain any semblance of offense through much of the game. Yates had intimated that the Bruins, although beaten by Elizabethtown twice during the regular season were going to be a tough out although feeling confident going in. Unfortunately, the home field advantage was taken away by the messy conditions as the two teams were tied at one apiece after two regulation periods and two overtimes. Then finally the Bruins took the Panthers in a shootout as it was Central Hardin which advanced and won the Region title. For Yates, the Panthers would have to wait at least one more year.
Living in the Fast Lane
Fast forward to 2018 as Elizabethtown went on a tear winning their first 14-games and finishing the regular season, 17-1. Their only loss was to Central Hardin. Yates had overcome the loss of All Area performer Jansen Wilson and got big time seasons by Tait Pritchard, Preston Thomas, Ty Been and Luis Gomez. The former Panther soccer player (Yates) had said before that he believed that this team should be good this season and for more to come and his prediction had made him seem like a Nostrodomus. Also, they had one of the best young goalkeepers in Brandon Parsons, who along with a defense which allowed only 25-goals in 25-games were ready, but even though they punched their first ticket to the Region Tournament with a 2-0 win over North Hardin in the semi-final District Playoff game, they eventually fell to the Bruins again. This time in the District final, 3-1. Although they were about to extend their season into the following week, once again Central Hardin added a little sting to that victory, but Yates knew that there was a good chance the two would meet for a fourth time and this time they would be ready.
It’s ALWAYS the Bruins
Central Hardin had not been just a District Rival for many seasons, but a thorn in the Panthers side over the years. It was Central Hardin, which beat Elizabethtown in 2010 in both the district and region championship and it helped jump start the Bruins string of eight 5th Region Championship appearances and nine seasons. Along with last season’s tough semi-final shootout loss, it seemed like every game against Central Hardin was a nail-bitter. Their first match was another shootout, but the Panthers pulled it out, this time. Their second meeting was not quite that much fun as they had their unbeaten string snapped in 2-0 loss. Then their 17th District Championship disaster and now after Region wins over Bardstown and Taylor County look who was waiting for them again. Bruin head coach Justin Maddock had a young team which was growing up in a hurry and now owned two wins over the Panthers that season. The ONLY two losses that belimished Elizabethtown’s almost perfect record. And now they stood in their way again. In a 17th District that has seen four different teams challenge and dominate, Yates and the Panther faithful felt like this was their year, but still one team was in the way and would LOVE to rain on their parade literally.
The 5th Region Final was held t John Hardin and like most Championship games, it was a SRO affair for a group of fans who waited for nine years for this and another that wanted to see it happen again. Usually in a championship game, scoring is at a minimum, but it didn’t take long to change that. Sophomore Welles Emery saw an opening up close and shot one past the goalkeeper to put the Bruins up 1-0 just eight minutes into the game. It looked like it might be another powder blue day for the Panthers as they had to repell several early attempts to score and then got one back themselves. After a Bruin foul put Ty Been up for a direct kick, the ball went low and past Central Hardin’s Goalkeeper to tie it up just four minutes later. After that, the entire complexion of the game changed. It was the Panthers who were on the attack and the Bruins who were on their heels most of the game. Still, it was a tie game and a 50-50 shootout is a crapshoot. That is until Tait Pritchard changed that. With 10:56 left in the first half, Spencer Brandenburg passed one across the goal and Pritchard drove it in to put Elizabethtown back up 2-1.With an entire half still to be played, no lead was safe, but the Panther defense which Yates helped sculpt together along with his assistant Judd Yates kept it so as the clock began the long and lonely countdown to a 5th Region title. The game became official : Elizabethtown 2 Central Hardin 1.
As the clock wound down, it was evident that the one-goal lead would stand and the fans poured onto the field in celebration. Panther players were engulfed by a sea of Elizabethtown fans and parents who had waited so long and now would have their moment in the sun (or moonlight). Yates gave credit to the team and his assistant coach, who had been with him since the beginning as he reflected on the past several seasons and the long road to the top. Since taking over the head coach job after the 2014 season, Yates’ Panthers have been 60-21-8 including 35-8-2 in his last two seasons. It turned out to be a long night for the Elizabethtown faithful who took numerous photos with the team and the Region Champion trophy as Panther players past and present were in attendence on an evening no one really wanted to end, but it eventually did because for the first time since 2009, Elizabethtown had another game to play.
It wasn’t the best way to end the Elizabethtown soccer team’s season, but they did give their fans one more home game as they hosted the Butler Bears in a semi-state subsectional playoffs. The stage was set for the Panthers to advance and possibly make a trip to the Final Four. That unfortunately did not happen as the Bears scored the last three goals after Elizabethtown took a very early lead on a Pritchard followup on a corner kick. The 1-0 lead came less than eight minutes in and many thought that would be a sign of things to come, but the Bears tied it up when Hate Dieven got a chance when he followed a shot past Parsons with about twenty six minutes remaining in the first half. In the second half, Bulter clearly took control and put two more in the back of the net to make it 3-1. Pritchard did have a breakaway late in the game to make it 3-2, but he swept one just wide left past the goalkeeper. It was a rough game as Parsons, who was hurt on one of the goals scored finally left the game midway in the second half. It was a fitting end to a tough loss for the Panthers.
Despite the loss, the Panthers still could be in good shape and by breaking that eight year drought accomplished something long overdue. Elizabethtown will lose six seniors and two legimate scorers, but the Panthers will still have Luis Gomez, Ty Been, Bryan Herringshaw and goalkeeper Parsons and Yates will develop other scorers. Also, the four-year head coach is smart enough to keep pushing the team when they need it and keep them grounded in a District that will not be kind to them next season. North Hardin and John Hardin will be better next year and the Central Hardin Bruins aren’t going to go away anytime soon. After getting there this season, there’s always the question of desire which every coach faces each season and most importantly will they be lucky? A lot of questions with no easy answers, but now that they will have a target on their back for once that’s something for Yates and his staff to mull over at least long enough before they take one long look at that Region Champion trophy to remember just how hard it was to get there in the first place and how it felt when they did.