An 8-hour round trip to Cincinnati for a game against one of the top teams in the nation posed a great early season challenge for the Saint Ignatius varsity soccer team on a rainy Saturday evening.
Even without three starters, the Wildcats passed the test, playing well to tie the Louisville St. Xavier Tigers, 1-1.
The tie advanced the Wildcats to 5-0-1, helping the squad – ranked No. 2 in the country by USA TODAY and No. 3 by Top Drawer Soccer – remain undefeated. The Tigers entered as the No. 9 team in the nation according to USA TODAY, and No. 5 by Top Drawer Soccer's rankings.
The contest started off on a sour note for the Wildcats. The Cleveland boys allowed a free kick at the top of the box to the Tigers in the first minute. St. Xavier did not waste the opportunity, burying the ball into the back of the net.
The Soccer Cats dug in following the goal, starting to gain traction on offense. Saint Ignatius controlled possession and produced scoring chances. St. Xavier's goalkeeper turned away a number of promising opportunities before the Tigers enjoyed chances in the final few minutes of the half. The Cats weathered the storm and entered the break trailing, 1-0.
"We put ourselves in a hole early in the game giving up a free kick at the top of the box," said Head Soccer Coach Mike McLaughlin '85. "They took advantage and scored. Once the game settled we created a bunch of chances and had the better of the play. We created lots of good chances and their goalkeeper made some big saves."
Early in the second half, the Wildcats' offense broke down the door. Bryce Horton, the reigning Student-Athlete of the Week, tallied his team-best sixth goal of the season. Horton has been on fire for the Wildcats as a playmaking, physical forward.
With the momentum on their side, the Soccer Cats kept pressing. The team almost scored on a number of occasions, but the Tigers stood firm.
"Once we tied it up early in the second half, we thought we were going to get another," McLaughlin said. "But their keeper again made some great saves."
On the opposite end, the Wildcats' defense stood firm despite missing a couple starters on defense and starting keeper Peter Van Euwen, due to injury. But goalie Danny Radigan did a wonderful job in net in relief.
"Danny did great. It was a tough day to be in goal with all of the wind/rain," McLaughlin said. "He handled everything that came his way."
In the end, the Wildcats left the pitch feeling like the better team. In the eyes of the players, the Soccer Cats should have won. But credit the Tigers and their keeper for preventing the Wildcats from scoring the go-ahead goal.
Even still, the Wildcats have plenty to be proud of.
"It was a tough day to play," McLaughlin said. "Traveling to Cincy, it rained the entire game, and we were without three starters. Yet we rose to the occasion, worked hard, and created plenty of goalscoring chances. I'm proud of how we handled the day. It's trips like these that are going to have us ready for the playoffs in November."
Next Up: After enjoying an offday on Sunday following a long Saturday of travel. The Wildcats' next game will be against St. Edward on Wednesday at 8 pm, following the JV contest at 6 pm. The JV A Cats have a 3-1-1 record entering the contest.
Sugar with the Save: Tonight's game might not have started close to on time without the efforts of Ed Sugar. The father of Ian Sugan sprung into action when St. Xavier's bus hit a telephone pole on the way to the game. Mr. Sugar picked up a number of Tigers in his minibus, stepping up in a pinch. Well-done, Mr. Sugar – a true Man for Others!
A Word of Thanks: A big thank you goes out to Peter Van Euwen and Mary Kay Curtis for providing in-game updates and analysis of the contest. Thank you for your help!