Column: Line Drives — Patriots have a chance to shine

[This is my column in the Oct. 9 issue of The Commercial Review.]

On Saturday, the Patriots are invading Delaware County.

And on Saturday, the Patriots have the opportunity to do something special.

At 10 a.m., the Jay County boys and girls cross country teams will compete in the sectional race at Muncie SportsPlex

The Patriot girls are hoping for their ninth straight championship, while the boys are looking for their first title in nearly two decades.

Four hours later, coach Alan Bailey and his boys soccer team will square off against the Yorktown Tigers in the Class 2A Sectional 15 championship at Yorktown Sports Park. The Tigers are three-time defending sectional champions, and they have ended Jay County’s season in each of the last three years. That included a 6-0 drubbing in the semifinal a year ago.

Then, at 7 p.m., first-year coach Giles Laux and his JCHS girls soccer team will defend its first sectional title in school history against — who else? — Yorktown.

Saturday, Jay County has the chance to win four sectional championships. On the same day.

None of them will come easily.

The girls cross country team has far fewer members than it has during its streak of titles, and it is without key contributors from that time. But, the Patriots do have a first-team all-Allen County Athletic Conference runner in Kellie Fortkamp. The Jay County junior finished fourth in the conference meet Saturday and has finished in the top 10 in every race.

Jay County will also count on Megan Wellman, who has missed most of the season with a leg injury. The junior was the top returning runner from last year’s squad but has only run in two races this year.

The Patriot boys soccer team has come together at precisely the right time.

After posting a 3-4-1 record through their first eight games, Bailey’s boys lost four straight contests by a combined score of 30-4. Since then, however, they’ve rattled off four straight wins, including a 4-0 shutout of Delta Monday in the sectional semifinal.

Alex Abbott leads Jay County (7-8-1) with 18 goals, and has scored at least once in each of the last five games. The senior has the ability to change direction on a dime and the speed to outrun opposing defenses.

Jalen Ryder (six goals), another senior, has emerged as a threat up front with Abbott, and freshman Zaaron Lee has also played an important role at midfield.

Defensively, the back line of David Fernandez, Zach Chaney and Nathan Heitkamp did a stellar job of limiting Delta’s chances Monday. But to beat Yorktown again — the Patriots defeated the Tigers 4-3 Sept. 27 — those three will have to keep up the intensity in front of new goalkeeper Trevor Moeller.

Gabbie Mann is the focal point of the girls team. The junior has scored a whopping 29 goals this season, which has included eight multi-goal games and seven hat tricks. The junior, like Abbott, is oftentimes marked the entire game, because her speed, footwork and power with both legs are a threat from anywhere on the field.

But aside from Mann, the Patriots have an entire roster of players who contribute every time they touch the field.

Seniors Catherine Dunn and Carmen Lopez are up front with Mann, and Dunn’s 11 goals are second-most on the team.

In the midfield, Mariah Bailey, Emma Laux and Sophie and Alex Bader have done a tremendous job of getting the ball upfield to the forwards, and have also had their fair share of scoring opportunities.

Following an injury in the final minutes of Jay County’s thrilling win against Delta on Tuesday, Laux’s status for Saturday’s game was in limbo. But the junior has been cleared to play and her presence in the midfield is a must if the Patriots hope to repeat as sectional champions.

Goalkeeper Lilly Rogers was the Patriot savior Tuesday, making two stops during a penalty-kick shootout to seal a victory over Delta. The sophomore’s skills between the pipes and her ability to control the defense in front of her — seniors Lexi Myers, Sarah Newton and Chelsea Mock, and a steady rotation of Megan Smith, Kyra Braun and Emily Muhlenkamp — has helped the Patriots to an 8-5 record.

While the girls beat Yorktown 1-0 in the sectional final last year, the Tigers defeated the visiting Patriots 3-1 on Sept. 25. Without a doubt, the Patriots want to avenge their regular-season loss.

Saturday can be a very special day for Jay County athletics.

I can’t think of a better way to spend it than covering potential sectional championships, and I encourage everyone to make the trek over to watch these kids in action.

It could be a great day to be a Patriot.

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