There’s no rest for the weary. There’s no rest for the victors, either.
Richmond’s celebration of its first North Central Conference boys soccer title since 2005 better be but a fond memory by Monday night. If not, arch-rival New Castle will laugh again and live to play another postseason day.
The two teams tangle at 6 p.m. today in Rushville in the first round of the Class 2A sectional tournament. The winner gets Rushville on Wednesday night and a chance to reach the sectional final Saturday.
The loser goes home as a tri-NCC champ — Richmond, Marion and New Castle all won their final league games Saturday to end the season with 6-1 marks — but with no postseason heartbeat.
“Our guys are playing well and we’re ready,” said junior goalkeeper Drew Barrett.
They better be. The sectional format changed starting in 2011 with smaller schools in one division and larger schools in the other. That means Richmond has no margin for error in this year’s tournament.
New Castle took the regular-season 3-1 on its home field, a game even some of Richmond’s players admit was their worst team effort of the season.
The Trojans capitalize on mistakes and play with the grit for which they’ve been known over the years. They also lost just once in conference play and have sights set on a long postseason run.
“I like our position,” RHS coach Sam Byrd said. “We played a lot of games in a short period of time and that has helped us get ready. This will be a good test for us.”
When the two teams met in early September, Richmond had just defeated Marion for the first time in years. Instead of building on that accomplishment, the Red Devils played flat, failed in their crisp passing game, let one goal in on a freak bounce and showed little resolve to climb out of a two-goal deficit.
“The field was small and bumpy and we couldn’t get the ball down there and play our game,” Byrd said after that loss. “But give New Castle credit. They played their game and showed a lot of intensity.”
Richmond must match that intensity tonight. It has the firepower to advance behind leading scorer Joel Okafor, who creates defensive challenges for opponents with his strength and speed, speedy goal-scorer Chris Szymanowski, game-controlling center midfielder Michael Black and a senior-dominated defense thirsty for redemption.
The loss at New Castle started a three-game losing streak for Richmond. The streak appeared to be headed to four, down 3-1 late in an NCC game at Anderson. But the Red Devils scored two to force overtime, three more in overtime, won 6-3 and haven’t lost since.
“This first sectional game will be hard,” said senior Nathan Guth, the last line of Richmond’s defense before Barrett. “New Castle is our rival and they will come out hard. We just have to match it with more.”
Richmond’s girls soccer team is at home for its postseason as the Red Devils host a Class 2A tournament at Freeman Park.
That tournament begins Tuesday night with a 6 p.m. matchup between Connersville and New Castle. Host RHS takes on Rushville at 5 p.m. on Thursday, with Franklin County taking on the Connersville/New Castle winner at 7.
The championship is 6 p.m. Saturday.