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Dan Weber's Just Sayin': Cov Cath Soccer Turnaround; High School Football RPI?

Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog was talking baseball, of course, but his comments on the postseason pretty much apply wherever and whenever the playoffs get here – and they’re here now.

"It's not the best team that wins, it's the team that plays the best!"

We’re JUST SAYIN’ that’s never been more true than this year for the Covington Catholic soccer team. Wednesday afternoon in the semifinals of the Kentucky State Boys Soccer Tournament in Lexington, the Colonels pulled off their eighth straight win – a 1-0 shutout over a Daviess County team that beat Cov Cath in the 2016 state championship game on penalty kicks.

Every one of the wins in the streak have come in the playoffs while Cov Cath was giving up just four goals with five postseason shutouts thanks to the work of first-team all-state goalkeeper Carter Eilers.

“We’ve definitely turned it around,” Cov Cath Coach Jeremy Robertson said of a sub-.500 regular season. “We’ve got some grit to us.”

They’ve had to have that grit. In 16 games since Sept. 9, they’ve played exactly two at home. Nothing has come easy for these Colonels.

“That’s nothing I meant to do on purpose,” Robertson said of all the road games. It just happened. Games became available and he took them. “This has been one of our hardest years,” he says. And those early losses against the likes of Cincinnati Moeller and Elder not to mention Northern Kentucky powers like Highlands and Ryle are paying off now.

After the win over No. 4 Daviess County (15-2-4), Cov Cath’s win streak has propelled the state’s 73rd-ranked team in the official regular season RPI (Ratings Percentage Index), into the state championship game Saturday (4 p.m.) against a No. 5 Paul Laurence Dunbar (Lexington) team that beat No. 21 Elizabethtown 4-0 in the other semis.

Cov Cath, the only boys soccer state titlist from Northern Kentucky back in 2015, was ranked No. 9 – in the Ninth Region – going into the regional tourney. The Colonels’ 6-8-5 record had put them squarely in that nine-spot. And now at 14-8-5, well, you can catch them at Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School Stadium playing for its second state title trophy Saturday.

The direct responsibility for this win falls on Aiden Hemmer who headed a first-half shot in to the far post off a 30-yard free kick from Luke Gallenstein for the game’s lone score at the 31:09 mark. Colonel goalkeeper Eilers batted away the five shots on goal for Daviess County and that was it. CovCath, with just five shots to Daviess County’s 14, made the one count that mattered most in this one.

As for Hemmer, he’s a symbol of this team, Robertson said. “He got cut as a sophomore, came back the next year and made the team and now he’s starting.”

None of the seniors are really college prospects, Robertson said. “We’ve got to work hard.” And they do. “We’ve trained every single day for the last two months.”

It’s paying off. “I think we’re turning a lot of heads,” Robertson says. “Our story line has been that we always want to learn, even from the games we lost.”

And what have they learned? “Everybody’s beatable,” he says, “just look at the scores of the schools around the state.”

And then there’s this: Nothing comes easy. Even in this all-winning postseason. CovCath has two victories in penalty shootouts and a third – last weekend at Somerset in the quarterfinals -- in two overtimes.

Now they’re pulling for top-ranked and unbeaten Notre Dame Academy, right across the Dixie Highway in Park Hills, to beat West Jessamine in Thursday’s girls semis so they can join the Colonels Saturday in the second championship game.

“That would be really cool,” Robertson says of the chance to root for two teams in the finals. It would indeed . . . JUST SAYIN’. (Update: It happened.)

*** RPI . . . EXACTLY WHY? OK, we just noted how Cov Cath, with the No. 9 RPI ranking in the Ninth Region and the No. 73 spot in the state, will be in the state championship boys soccer game Saturday. That’s kind of a bad mark for the system that has its critics and supporters wherever it’s used. And to be honest, if you look at the Kentucky girls soccer RPI, the Nos. 1-2 teams seem to be exactly right with unbeaten Notre Dame No. 1 and longtime power South Oldham No. 2 and both favored to emerge from Thursday’s semis for a state championship matchup Saturday.

We do wonder why it is that the RPI has unbeaten Bishop Brossart, the only team in Kentucky with a 10-0 record and only unbeaten team in Class A, no better than No. 5. Or how Holmes, at 7-2 now, is only No. 11 in 4A. Or that a 5-5 Highlands team with a number of tough losses is way down at No. 19 in 5A. No way. One reason for Holmes at No. 11 after last week’s 40-0 win over then-district-leading Scott doesn’t count for any more than a 7-6 win would have since margin of victory is not factored in to discourage running up the scores, just your team’s wins, the wins of your opponents and their opponents’ opponents. All we’re asking for is just a couple of tweaks . . . JUST SAYIN’.         

*** FINALLY . . . Friday’s home finale finishes off what has been a tough season for the thin Bellevue Tigers who weren’t a cinch to have enough players to start the season much less finish it. But the game will allow Bellevue to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary of football as it hosts at 7 p.m. at Gilligan Stadium a Holmes team it first played in that inaugural 1921 season. The bigger school Bulldogs lead the series 19-8 after winning 16 of the last 18. Catch these Tigers if you can. They’ve done a great job hanging in there and getting it to the finish line . . . JUST SAYIN’.

*** CERTAINLY 1 OF THE TOP 2 . . . The last high school football game I covered before leaving Northern Kentucky for three decades is one I remember well. It was the debut of one Shaun Alexander, the Boone County High running back who was unlike any local player ever. He proved that with his eight-year NFL starring career following four years at Alabama where he rushed for 3,443 rushing yards and 40 TDs, leaving Alabama in 1999 with 15 school records. Which is why Fox Sports recently named him the best college football player born in Kentucky. But as much a Northern Kentucky guy I am, it’s hard to say there may not have been another better player born in Kentucky. His name? Paul Hornung. The “Golden Boy,” from Louisville Flaget High School. A 1956 Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame, Paul won four NFL titles including the first Super Bowl and one NFL MVP award – an award Shaun also won once -- while setting the NFL scoring record of 176 points (in just 12 games) that stood for 46 years. Lining up at left halfback, the Louisville Flaget product could run it, catch it, throw it and kick it (66 NFL field goals, 190 extra points). He’s hard to overlook, even for Shaun . . . JUST SAYIN’.

*** COUGARS PACKIN’ IT IN . . . When they fire off the starter’s gun Saturday for the Kentucky State Cross Country championships at the Bourbon County Park Course in Paris, there’ll be a total of 1,993 runners taking off in the six different races. But none of the 354 boys and girls teams will have the kind of closeness the five-man pack from Conner High, last year’s runner-up in Class AAA, can boast of. Led by Joseph Impellitteri, No. 7 with a qualifying time of 16:23.34 in the 5K event, Conner has four other Cougars in the top 19. And all within 22.81 seconds. Logan Warth (16:29.80) and Ryan Hanak (16:33.18) are back-to-back at spots 9 and 10 while Drew Moore (16:43.54) is the No. 15 qualifier while George Johnson (16:46.15) is No. 19. Only Oldham County with two runners in the top 20 has more than one. If they can finish like that, the Cougars have a real shot at bringing a state title back to Hebron . . . JUST SAYIN’.   

--Dan Weber

Photo: Covington Catholic soccer team (Bob Jackson/Cov Cath)