A Rowan County fan began ringing her cowbell in celebration before Aaron Smart had even shot.
It was more or less a sure thing. The Vikings senior had only to walk the ball in after corralling Blake Mullen's long free kick and getting behind Ashland's goalkeeper, who had come way out and then fallen to the turf in the 34th minute of the 16th Region Tournament semifinal on Monday night.
Smart did exactly that for the second of five consecutive Rowan County tallies in a 6-2 victory for the tournament host Vikings at Paul Ousley Stadium.
Five different Rowan County players scored. Chase Alderman found the net twice, and Mullen, Smart, Riley Hutchinson and Cameron Crowe joined him in the scoring column.
"We've got plenty of guys that can score, and it just worked out that way, I think," Vikings coach Max Hammond III said.
Mullen scored in the second minute of play, but the Tomcats (10-13-1) countered in the 10th when a Rowan County defender fell trying to clear a ball deep in the Vikings' end and Ashland's Drew Clark chased it down. Clark dribbled in front and converted for his 20th goal of the season.
But Alderman ripped a goal from about 30 yards out six minutes later, and Mullen's quickly played free kick after drawing a foul in the 34th minute set up Smart and set off Rowan County.
"Any time you get a two- to three-goal advantage, those goals are big right there," Hammond said, quickly adding with a grin, "The most important one's the first one, I think, obviously, right? The other team scores, it's the next one."
Ashland coach Preston Freeman thought the defending region champion Tomcats had gotten things back under control with Clark's goal. But the Vikings efficiently capitalized on Tomcats trouble on defense, he said.
"There was a time in the first half where I thought we had a really good flow," Freeman said. "We got the equalizer to make it 1-1, and the game was very much turning in our direction. A couple unlucky breaks in the back, some mental errors in the back, and it got out of hand pretty quick."
Hutchinson scored off Mullen's corner kick in the 49th minute, and Crowe took Alderman's square feed in the 64th and curled a shot inside the right post.
Alderman capped the Rowan County (14-3-1) scoring in the 79th minute by again getting behind the Tomcats' goalie and finishing into an empty net.
"They took advantage of some mistakes we made in the back, from center backs to the keeper to the out wide spot," Freeman said.
Ashland's Jack Griffith recorded the game's final goal with 16 seconds remaining, looping a long ball over the head of the Vikings' keeper.
Freeman estimated the Tomcats owned 60% of the game's possession, but couldn't account for Rowan County's size and strength and didn't turn their chances into goals.
"We moved the ball probably the best we've moved it all year, honestly," Freeman said. "We created a lot of offense; we just lacked productivity in the offensive third. It showed."
Rowan County had no such problem in what Hammond called "one of their better wins here in a while." It was certainly a contrast from the Vikings' victory at Menifee County on kicks from the mark in the 61st District Tournament final five days earlier in Denniston.
"I think one part of it's being on our home field," Hammond said. "We prepared very well for this game, I thought. ... I was very proud of how they came out and played, and had a few good practices, so, keep it up."
Rowan County hosts Boyd County in the region tournament final on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Lions edged East Carter in double overtime, 2-1, earlier Monday.
(606) 326-2658 |