It takes a special effort to shut out an opponent. The Central Catholic boys soccer team has developed a knack for doing it on a routine bases.
The Crusaders have shut out nine opponents this season on the way to a 10-4 record and the No. 1 seed in its Division III, Northeast 4 district. Central's ninth shutout came in its 8-0 sectional final win over Rittman on Saturday.
The Crusaders will look to increase that total Tuesday night at 6 when they host No. 13 seed Norwayne in the district semifinals.
"We have a lot of solid defenders this season," Central head coach Patrick Downing said. "They have a lot of fun out there but they are also having a lot of success out there."
It all starts with the efforts of senior Christian Harris.
"He's a four-year starter," Downing said. "He's a great leader and he does a good job of keeping us organized on that end."
It's that sense of responsibility that has made Harris a co-captain this season.
"I see myself as kind of the anchor in the back," Harris said. "I handle a lot of the shots that go over the top and a lot of the shots that get behind the rest of the team. We all have our roles and we wouldn't be able to accomplish what we have accomplished without each other."
Christian Pena-Escobar of Central Catholic keeps an eye on the ball during their Division III sectional final against Rittman at Central Catholic on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.
The others that make up the Crusader defense are senior Aidan Winkhart and juniors James Brown and Brody Donley. The depth on defense that Central has extends beyond the starters. Sophomore Christian Pena-Escobar has emerged as a key substitute for the unit after moving in from New York in the offseason.
"We do a really good job of communicating," Harris said. "Everybody is on the same page. I don't think any of us make moves that surprise the rest of us."
That communication has translated into strong play by the unit this season.
"The key with these kids is they all work well together," Downing said. "They do a good job of moving the ball around but they are really smart about the choices they make while they are doing it. These are kids that don't just kick it and run. They like to swing the ball from one side to the other, but they do it with a purpose in mind."
If opponents are able to find a way through the defense, they still have to contend with senior goalkeeper Steven Garcia. Garcia has proven himself more than capable of stopping any shots coming his way.
"He's a great keeper," Downing said. "He's athletic and he's made some great saves to preserve some of those shutouts for us. You can't talk about the shutouts without talking about his efforts as well."
Combining Central's defense with a potent offense featuring scorers such as Zach Leatherman, Grady Angerman and Matt Kling gives the Crusaders belief they can make a tournament run.
The year has been particularly gratifying for Harris, Winkhart and Garcia. The four were freshman when Downing took over the program as head coach.
"This year means a lot to us for that reason," Harris said. "Coach has been a big part of our lives the past four years. He's done a lot to help us out. We wanted to go out and have a good year to help him out."