The fourth-seeded Bulldogs looked more like a one-seed Monday, maintaining complete control of the game tempo on their way to beating the Kirksville Tigers 4-0 in the first round of the MSHSAA Class Two District Eight soccer tournament in Hannibal.
"Winning any games in the district tournament is exciting," head coach Grant Johnston said. "You have to be able to savor and enjoy any win you can get, and district tournament wins taste a little sweeter."
The Bulldogs improve to 14-10 with the win, just the the second time in program history that the Bulldogs have won a game in the district tournament.
"The guys understand this is a win or go home scenario," Johnston said. "They seem ready and willing for whatever task approaches them."
Senior Christian McKeown notched the Bulldogs' first goal in the sixth minute of play. After sophomore Brock Fuemmeler was fouled in the penalty area, McKeown shot a penalty kick which was blocked by the Kirksville goalkeeper. McKeown recovered the ball as both teams rushed the box, driving it to the back of the net to give Mexico a 1-0 lead.
Just a few minutes later, the Bulldogs extended their lead to two. McKeown drove the ball down the left side of the goal box, drawing the attention of the keeper before passing right to Fuemmeler. Fuemmeler took two touches before finishing to the opposite net.
Senior Aron Manns added one more in the fourteenth minute to give the Bulldogs a 3-0 advantage going into the half. Fuemmeler dribbled up the right side, beating a Kirksville defender before sending a perfectly placed cross to the foot of Manns.
Manns wasn't done for the night however. In the second half he finished a loose ball from inside the goal box to give the Bulldogs their final score of the night.
"Aron put forth one of his best efforts of the season, earning his first two-goal game of the season," Johnston said. "This is the type of performance we had expected from Aron all season, and it is great he's giving it to us now when we need it. His determination and effort to win the ball wherever it is on the field is what makes him so valuable."
The Bulldogs defense had a standout performance as well, repeatedly shutting down the Tigers' offense to record the shutout.
"Kamden Ekern played his best game of the entire season, and this time is exactly when we need it. He played aggressive and disciplined all at the same time. He, along with entire defense, played nearly flawless," Johnston said. "Tyler Warmbrodt recorded his sixth shutout of the season. There's often times in a soccer game where you hold your breath when the ball is in your penalty area. This game had none of those moments thanks to Tyler's strong play."
Page 2 of 2 - The game marked the fourth time the Bulldogs and Tigers met this season. In the first meeting, the Bulldogs lost 2-1 in Kirksville. Since that meeting, the Bulldogs have dominated the series, beating them 4-0 in the Spartan Invitational and 3-0 at home.
"The team had built up a lot of nerves heading into this one. Playing a team that we are better than can be dangerous," Johnston said. "We knew we were the superior team but just because we are better, does not mean we will win, especially in district play. After a couple of goals we settled in and were able to alleviate any nerves or pressures we previously had."
The Bulldogs return to Hannibal tonight to face the top-seeded Hannibal Pirates. In two previous meetings the Pirates beat the Bulldogs 3-2 in Mexico and 1-0 in Hannibal.
"We are very pleased at where we stand right now heading into our next game against Hannibal," Johnston said. "We have lost to them twice this season, and both losses have left us with a bitter taste. Our 1-0 loss to them earlier in the season has been one of the most memorable, and after that game, we've been itching to play them again. This game has the potential for a storybook ending, all we have to do is write it."