SHELBYVILLE — It’s been a postseason full of history-making for the Shelbyville Central Golden Eagles. From running the unbeaten district gauntlet, to capturing the first-ever region …
SHELBYVILLE — It’s been a postseason full of history-making for the Shelbyville Central Golden Eagles.
From running the unbeaten district gauntlet, to capturing the first-ever region title in school history, the Eagles have stayed hungry, persevered, and even when their backs were against the wall, found a resilience to fight to a victory.
That same scenario played out in Saturday night’s Class 3A state sectional against LaVergne.
The Wolverines took a first-half lead against the Eagles and then lightning forced a near-two hour delay.
None of that mattered as the comeback kids in blue found a pair of goals in the final 16 minutes and stunned LaVergne, 2-1, to advance to the Class 3A state tournament for the first time in school history.
“I felt like we were playing scared for the first 64 minutes and I told the boys we don’t need to be cautious because we’re down a goal. Let’s go and get them and press and stop being such good guys. My guys are such good guys off the field and sometimes in soccer you have to play hard and get in scrappy battles for the ball,” Shelbyville coach Chris Fritz said.
The Eagles played a fairly close match against LaVergne for the majority of the first half.
It wasn’t until a 37th minute strike off the toe of Jordan Beslin that broke the scoreless stalemate.
That 1-0 LaVergne lead held through most of the second half.
Shelbyville still was able to set up several runs on the Wolverine goal, but just couldn’t break through the back line or get a key ball to bounce its way.
Backed by a stellar effort in goal by Eagle keeper Jonathan Rojas, LaVergne wasn’t padding the lead, either.
“Jonathan Rojas is probably one of the most underrated keepers that I’ve ever coached. He has amazing reflexes. He has a giant heart and he has really good technique. He’s saved several penalties this year to keep us in games. He somehow always manages to somehow get a hand on a ball every time,” Fritz said.
With 16:16 left on the clock, lightning was spotted and a near-two hour weather delay began.
While players and fans were evacuated from the field, the Eagles kept their composure during the lengthy pause and once play resumed, Fritz told his club to be aggressive and push the ball in an all-out blitz on the LaVergne goal.
“Some of our older guys stepped up. Seniors played through injuries and fought. I put all the seniors on the field and I told them you have 16 minutes left on your home field. No matter what, this is it. So go out there and try to win every ball and that’s what we did,” he said.
After a handful of near goals when play resumed, it was a header by Brian Contreras played off a free kick by Kolby Themm that Shelbyville was able to put the equalizer to the back of the net.
The frantic change in play pushed the Wolverines back on their heels and Shelbyville had completely seized all of the momentum.
With the come-from-behind win in the region championship still fresh in mind, the Eagles made sure there would be no extra time needed to finish yet another rally.
Themm took a free kick from near mid-field and lobbed the shot just over the LaVergne goal keeper’s head to the back of the net in the 76th minute, putting the Eagles out in front with just over three minutes left to play.
Shelbyville’s back line of defense held strong on the final desperation attempts by LaVergne and after the final whistles blew, the Eagles rushed the field to celebrate their first-ever trip to the Spring Fling.
“It’s surreal, but it’s not. When you’re with our program year-round and you’re with these guys so long, you know their character and what they’re capable of. I’ve been preaching for years that we have the kids that can do that and these kids had the self-belief to do it,” Fritz said.
With the state sectional in the rear-view mirror, the Eagles are now one of eight teams left playing for postseason glory and are just three wins away from a state championship.
While it’s been a spectacular show of resiliency by the Eagles so far this postseason, Fritz says he doesn’t have to do much to motivate his team.
“The interesting thing is we’re at a weird point because practice doesn’t look like a hungry practice because we’re trying to conserve energy and bodies. But they come in and they’re focused every day. The intensity is there, it’s just in smaller amounts because you’re playing three soccer games in just six days, which is a lot on the body,” he said.
“These guys are motivated. I don’t have to do a lot to motivate them. I come in and we draw up a session and try to think about what other team does and how we can counter that.”
Shelbyville will begin its first-ever state tournament run on Tuesday in Murfreesboro.
LaVergne 1 0 — 1
Shelbyville 0 2 — 2
L — Jordan Beslin goal, (37th minute).
S — Brian Contreras head-in goal, (68th minute).
S — Kolby Themm free kick goal, (76th minute).
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