The excitement level for East Ridge soccer coach Jeremy McIntyre was all over the board Thursday evening. His offense produced goals, which he always expects, while his defense pitched a shutout against the Hixson attack.
Oh, and his team won its first-ever district championship.
Tad Whitaker led the way with two goals -- giving him seven in two games -- and East Ridge won 3-0 over Hixson at Camp Jordan for the 6-A/AA title. The Pioneers (11-5-1) will face Boyd-Buchanan, which fell 1-0 to Arts & Sciences in the District 5 final, in a Region 3 semifinal Tuesday.
"We've come a long way from the beginning of my tenure," McIntyre said. "It's a great feeling to know that all of the hard work has paid off. Our defense is our rock: They stepped up when they needed to, and our goalkeeper made some big saves when we needed him to."
DeArius Moore had two saves for the Pioneers.
Hixson (12-6) had the first dangerous opportunity of the match, when Spencer Groves took a shot while Moore was out of position. It took a nonkeeper save by Adolfo Gaspar to prevent an early Wildcats lead.
Whitaker's goals were assisted by Marco Briseno in the first half and Razim Kazic in the second. After the match, he was named the district most valuable player for the season.
Kazic scored the match's first goal on a penalty kick after Hixson was called for a handball in the box. The Pioneers kept Wildcats keeper Jake Powell busy, as he finished with 10 saves.
"It would have been great for our morale to get a goal in early," Hixson coach Jeff Dean said. "The guys knew they had opportunities, we just didn't finish.
"East Ridge is a powerhouse. I expect to see them go all the way."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.