POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — They were in it until the very end. Luck, however, ended up being with the Irish.
The Point Pleasant boys soccer team suffered its first home loss of the 2017 campaign as Nate Hugh netted a hat trick en route to helping Huntington Saint Joseph claim a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night in a non-conference match at Ohio Valley Bank Track and Field in Mason County.
The host Black Knights (5-3) needed just three minutes of regulation to establish their only lead of the night, but the Irish (4-4) countered with a pair of quick-strike goals from Hugh midway though the first half — allowing the Blue and Gold to secure a slim 2-1 advantage at the break.
Both teams went into full defensive mode from there, as each possession turned into a battle for space — which ultimately led to 20-plus scoreless minutes in the second half.
Then, with 15:30 left in regulation, PPHS had an opportunity present itself after Cole Walker was tackled and taken down during a breakaway attempt in front of the St. Joe net — resulting in a penalty kick.
Walker buried the ball in the back of the bottom right corner of the goal, allowing the Black Knights to tie the game at two with just under 16 minutes remaining.
Hugh, however, capped off his stellar three-goal performance just three minutes later as the senior gained possession deep in front of the Point goal, then made a reverse spin to his right and uncorked a shot that successfully went from the left side to the back left of the net.
That eventual game-winning goal — which was assisted by Max Adkins — came at the 12:34 mark, allowing Saint Joseph to secure a 3-2 edge in the closing moments.
Point Pleasant had multiple shots miss their mark in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation, and the final horn sounded as the hosts rushed to get off a corner kick that could have led to a game-tying goal.
Instead, the Black Knights endured their first two-game losing skid of the season — both of which occurred in a 24-hour cycle. Point fell 7-1 at Cross Lanes Christian just the night before.
Afterwards, PPHS coach Chip Wood acknowledged that his troops put together one of their best showings of the year — even though it ended up resulting in a loss.
And, as Wood also noted, it took one incredible effort from one special player to ruin the entire evening.
“We played a really physically game last night against a pretty good Cross Lanes Christian squad … and it was a road game at that. I was really pleased with our effort and the way we responded tonight, though it was a tale of two different halves,” Wood said. “I fought really hard with our game plan today because I didn’t really want to man-mark the Hugh kid. He’s a tremendous player, but I just don’t tactically believe in that so we tried to play a bit more of a straight-up approach in the first half. Honestly, he just ate us up there in a two- or three-minute span.
“We changed that in the second half and had someone shadow him everywhere he went, and suddenly we had more possessions and more control of the game. He made a nice play on that final goal, but I was much more pleased with how the second half went.”
Wood also even went as far as to take one for the team, because he honestly felt that his players did everything they needed to to get out of OVB Field with a victory.
Now, he’s just hoping to get more of that same effort in the Black Knights’ next match.
“The kids gave a tremendous effort tonight and this one is a little hard to take right now because we really wanted this one … and we played well enough to win,” Wood said. “I told the kids after the game, that first half was on me. If we would have man-marked Hugh in the first half, the outcome might have been a little different … so that’s on me.
“We had our chances late against a program and a coach that I really respect, and we were in it down to the final horn. There’s not much else I can ask of my guys, to be perfectly honest. Hopefully we can rebound and find some positive energy for this Thursday when we host Gallia Academy.”
The Irish claimed a 19-10 advantage in shots on goal and also had a 5-3 edge in corner kicks. Both teams also received at least one yellow card apiece in the hard-fought match.
Braxton Watkins-Lovejoy gave the hosts a 1-0 advantage just three minutes into regulation following a goal from the wing.
The score remained that way until the 22:35 mark as Hugh — the 2015 Class AA player of the year in soccer — scored on a breakaway, tying the contest at one.
Hugh followed by clearing a crowd in front of the PPHS net, then released a shot from the right side of the attack zone to the right side of the net.
The shot went untouched while finding the twine, allowing HSJHS to secure a 2-1 edge with 20:06 left in the first half.
The Black Knights — still down 2-1 — also misfired on a penalty kick midway through the second half.
Zach Rediger made 16 saves in net for the hosts, while Dalton Vance stopped eight shots in goal for the victors.
Point Pleasant will host Gallia Academy at 7 p.m. Thursday. PPHS won the first contest in Centenary by a 4-0 count.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.