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With Baxter, blanks, CHS soccer Hornets open postseason with win Monday

Senior’s 50th, 51st career goals, defense’s sixth shutout subdue Irish a third time in district debut

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

SAVANNAH — Senior forward Mason Baxter’s eighth and ninth goals of the season – the latter the 51st of his sterling career – and impenetrable defense powered Chillicothe High School’s soccer Hornets past St. Joseph: Lafayette 3-0 Monday in the opening round of the 5-teams Class 2 District 8 Tournament.

The Hornets’ third triumph over the Fighting Irish this fall and second in five nights elevated their season record to 11-6 entering Tuesday’s district-semifinal match against top-seeded St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond (9-2). That clash, slated for 6 p.m. in the wake of the duel between second-seeded St. Joseph: Benton and third-seeded host Savannah, will be Chillicothe’s opportunity to simultaneously avenge a 5-0 Sept. 10 loss at Bishop LeBlond and advance to Thursday’s championship match.

Having nipped Lafayette 2-1 at home on Oct. 13 and then shutting them out 4-0 in a postponement make-up match last Thursday, CHS’ boys entered Monday’s contest confronting the oft-expressed psychologically-difficult obstacle of needing to defeat the same foe three times in a season. After being locked in a scoreless tie at halftime they hurdled the obstacle with room to spare.

With the defense and junior goalkeeper Jaxon Albertson much busier, but still airtight against LHS for a second-consecutive outing, all the Hornets’ offense needed to do was put one shot in the back of the Irish net. Once it did, just to be certain, though, it made three deposits in a span of about 12 minutes without either of their top goal scorers of 2020 contributing.

As the second half approached its mid-point Monday with the sides still level, Baxter converted a setup from junior Chace Corbin in the 57th minute of the match.

While it stood fast as the match winner, Baxter helped make sure Lafayette would not come back, burying another shot – this time assisted by classmate Caleb Vance – about eight minutes later. For both Vance and Ch. Corbin, the helper was their third of the year.

With Lafayette reeling from now trailing by two goals and likely fighting despair with less than 15 minutes remaining in the match, fast-developing sophomore Sam Reeter delivered the undisputed knockout punch, tacking his fourth tally of the season off Baxter’s “dime” in the 69th minute, CHS head coach Tim Cunningham reported.

That gave Chillicothe plenty of breathing room down the stretch and perhaps permitted it to save some energy for the tough assignment barely 24 hours later.

“We showed a lot of grit and determination throughout the match,” praised the Chillicothe coach. “We never panicked (when the match stayed scoreless well into the second half) and stuck to the game plan.”

After having to turn back only two Fighting Irish shots on frame last Wednesday, Albertson found himself tested many more times Monday, but was up to the task. All told, he rejected nine LHS shots, his second-most saves of the year.

As attested by its shots-on-goal total, Lafayette was much more assertive and aggressive on offense in the third meeting than either of the prior two. In the mid-October match, it sent only two shots on net, one of which found its way home.

Cunningham was pleased with the way his team’s defense handled the change in LHS tactics.

“Another outstanding effort by our defenders and center midfielders,” he praised.

In lining up against Bishop LeBlond a second time, Chillicothe will need to significantly sharpen its play in its defensive third of the pitch against speedy St. Joseph team, as well as find a place to dent the Golden Eagles’ defense.

The Sept. 10 match – Chillicothe’s third in a 1-3 start to the season – saw all five goals rung up in the first half. Owen Jungbluth started the BLHS scoring in the 16th minute and the Golden Eagles added on every sixth minute until it was 4-0. Then, about four minutes after that, it struck one last time.

All told, Bishop LeBlond pelted Albertson with 11 shots in the match, while CHS generated only two, according to statistics provided at that time by CHS coaches.

“LeBlond overwhelmed us with its speed, talent, and aggressive play,” Cunningham assessed after that loss. “We adjusted and played a better second half.”

With a loss now meaning an end of their season, the Hornets will have to be able to bring its second-half level of play in the first contest right from the opening whistle Tuesday.

“We need a better team effort from the start to compete with talented teams like LeBlond,” the Hornets coach said following the September contest.

Statistically Monday, Baxter’s second goal of Monday’s match wasn’t a record-breaker, but it did signify a career milestone.

By reaching 51 for his career, the senior forward pulled even with 2011-14 star Jon Kline for second-most goals in Hornets history, which dates back to 2007. Only Kline’s teammate from 2011-13, Steven Cooper, now owns more CHS goals – 55.

Coincidentally with climbing to the second rung of the career goals ladder, Baxter set up S. Reeter’s goal, earning the senior his team-leading 17th assist of the season. That’s the second-most in a season for a Hornet, only one less than Derek Hussey’s 2014 record total.

Baxter’s big match increased his team-leading points total (two points for each goal and one for each assist) to 35.