BLOUNTVILLE — It is not often a defeat elicits praise. Such was the display from Sullivan Central on Thursday night, however, that there was no choice but for fans — opposing included — to applaud.
Science Hill dealt a defiant Cougars side a 1-0 loss on senior night at Blountville Middle School. The Hilltoppers secured the No. 2 seed for next week’s District 1-AAA soccer tournament with the win; Central, meanwhile, must settle for the third seed.
“I think we really came out here and underestimated them,” said Hill assistant coach Andrew Rose, filling in for the absent Brandon Kind. “They were motivated and, you know, played a great match.
“We have had a stretch of three games in five days, which is not easy on any team. I think that was a factor as well.”
An unstoppable drive from Jordan Richardson, after 13 minutes, proved to be the difference. The senior received a short pass from Ben Cooper just outside the penalty area and, with little room on offer, unleashed a pinpoint strike to the far post. Central goalkeeper Sean Behne was rooted.
Science Hill (11-4-0, 5-1-0) continued to examine, probe, create — and shoot. None of it worked. The Cougars (8-4-3, 3-2-1) defended for their lives.
Behne may have not been able to do anything about Richardson’s goal, but he did contribute seven saves — most in spectacular fashion — to the cause. Behne, a senior, was, as his style, a humble soul in a post-match interview.
“We definitely tried,” Behne said. “You win some and you lose some, right?
“You’ve got to give it up to Evan (Dumke) and Austin (Culberson) in our defense. Austin in the first half, Evan in the second. They saved my butt a lot out there.”
Culberson, also a senior, opened the game at sweeper and finished it as a striker. He was tireless in both roles — an earmark of the entire team Friday.
“Very happy with the way we played,” Culberson said. “We needed to come out hard and fast, and we did that. We played some great defense, which I think helped out a lot. We just couldn’t get one in.”
Regarding the district tournament, Culberson commented: “If we play like we did tonight, I think we can go pretty far.”
Central’s best spell of the match came seconds before the goal, with Zach Shelton, playing a lone striker role during the opening half, forcing a smart save after the Science Hill goalkeeper and sweeper confused each other as Shelton bore down on both.
The Cougars struggled to get any type of service after the interval, their only real look coming in the final minute when Josh Martin failed to get off a crossing pass from the right byline. They finished with just two shots, one on target.
“Overall, our whole team had a good look about it today,” Central coach Cliff Ferguson said. “The defense was outstanding. I think we matched their level of intensity. Offensively, we just couldn’t get the service we needed.
“I don’t like to lose, but I’m happy with the performance.”