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Eastside boys soccer finds 'barometer' game at Heritage
Eastside's Billy Love advances the ball against a Heritage defender during Friday's non-region game against the Patriots. - photo by Anthony Banks | The Covington News

CONYERS, Ga. — In the waning moments of the Eastside boys soccer team’s 3-0 Friday night loss to Heritage, Champ Young took on the persona of the patient teacher rather than the frustrated coach. 

In a game where the Patriots controlled the action and stayed in attack mode most of the night, Young  said he kind of knew what his Eagles bunch was getting into against a larger, Class AAAAAA school. But he was overall pleased. 

“That was the best midfield we’ve seen all year,” Young said. “And it was obvious. They kept the ball the whole time. That used to be my club coach over there, so I knew they were going to be good. But it’s all good. It’s fine. We needed an Experience like this to bring us down to earth a little bit.” 

Such is the way of development for what Young called a youthful roster filled with promise. Coming off of two lopsided wins against Jackson and North Clayton, Eastside was missing defensive mid Tristan Aldridge Friday night whom Young said they were holding out for precautionary reasons after he suffered some concussion symptoms before Friday night’s game. 

“We think he’s fine,” Young said. “He’ll be okay. We just kind of wanted to be on the safe side by keeping him out for this game.” 

But Young was greatly encouraged by the play of guys like Shemarke Bennett and freshman Kevin Manley who he said played exceptionally well in spurts against a more talented and much deeper squad. 

“I mean you can tell we’re young, and not having Tristan hurt us a little bit,” Young said. “He controls everything centrally for us. But Shemarke had a heck of a night out here, and Kevin Manley played pretty much every minute against two of the best midfielders we’ve seen, and he had some moments where he struggled, but he was pretty much right there the whole time.” 

Young was particularly impressed with the play of junior keeper Jackson Gann. Gann unofficially had 16 saves against Heritage Friday night, including a pair of stops where he extended his body to grab the ball. 

Of the three goals Heritage scored, one came from a flawlessly executed header off a corner kick assist, and another — the game’s final score — came on a penalty kick. But those scores, according to Young, did nothing to diminish Gann’s play. 

“We’ve been hard on him in trying to get him to be more than just a shot stopper,” Young said. “We’ve wanted him to be more vocal back there, and (Friday night) he did a great job. I thought he commanded his box. There were saves he got that I didn’t think he’d be able to get. He was solid.” 

Young said Gann, Bennett and Billy Love should be first team all-region shoo-ins — proof that the overall maturation of his team is happening, even if not at the pace some of his players want. 

“Our struggle all year is to score goals,” he said. “And the development part of that, it’s something you can’t rush. I’m being patient with it. I know it frustrates them a little bit, but as a team, we’ll be fine.” 

Eastside has three games next week, including a home tussle with regular season Region 4-AAAA champion Druid Hills on Monday. After that, it’s region games against Henry County and a non-region match with Morrow. 

The Eagles have to win at least one of those two region games in order to secure fourth place in the region and a state tournament berth. And although Druid Hills will come in as the region’s best squad, Young said he feels confident in how Eastside can matchup. 

“Druid Hills is not as deep as Heritage, and they don’t play the same style,” he said. “They don’t have the midfield that this team we played (Friday night) has. Most teams we play in 4A don’t have as many good players. They aren’t as deep. So I feel good about both of our remaining region games actually. But we’ve still gotta go out and play it.”