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Riding emotional victory over U of L, Wildcats string together winning streak

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UK defeated East Tennessee State 3-1 on Wednesday night at the UK Soccer Complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK defeated East Tennessee State 3-1 on Wednesday night at the UK Soccer Complex. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After beginning the season 1-4, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team put together its first win streak of the season Wednesday evening, topping East Tennessee State 3-1. The Wildcats have improved their record to 3-4 on the year and seem to be playing with a sense of looseness and confidence.

Last Friday, the Cats defeated nationally-ranked Louisville on the road, standing tall in the face of several attacks from the Cardinals. Tonight, Kentucky played with the same energy it brought on Friday.

Kentucky got a first half goal from Gabriel Conelian in the 34th minute, taking a 1-0 lead into halftime. The Wildcats seemed to be fired up and ready to charge out of the gates in the second half. However, two minutes into the second stanza the Buccaneers equalized on a penalty kick. In the past, the Cats may have lowered their heads and started playing not to lose.

Instead, a more mature UK team responded with a goal in the 74th minute by Steven Perinovic and added an insurance goal by Charlie Pettys in the 83rd minute on a penalty kick.

"I think you can definitely see the confidence," head coach Johan Cedergren said. "They scored to equalize the game and our kids said 'Okay they scored, fine we will score another one.' I think that's the big change you see is that they know they can do so much better and they know they can play with anyone in the country."

Junior goalkeeper Jack Van Arsdale has played huge for the Cats the last few games and has come up with some big-time saves. Van Arsdale held off the Louisville attack, recording six saves in the process to pick up the upset. With the score tied 1-all this evening, the Bucs had a chance to go ahead on a header midway through the second half but Van Arsdale made a tremendous save to keep the game even.

The Cats seemed to get a boost from the play and were able to get a set piece to Perinovic, who found the back of the net for the game winner.

"Jack has been coming up huge," Perinovic said. "In the Louisville game he had six saves and was named national team of the week and he has been playing out of his mind for us right now. He's been keeping us in a lot of the games."

Assistant coach David Casper works with the goalkeepers and has put in a lot of time trying to help Van Arsdale, Callum Irving and Dary DeWalt improve. Cedergren gives a lot of credit to Casper and feels that Van Arsdale is really thriving under his guidance.

Not only has Van Arsdale's play improved, but so has the entire defense. The Cats were a goal away from recording their third shutout in four games and they seem to be trusting each other more and building chemistry.

"We are finally becoming a cohesive unit," Perinovic said. "The more you play with each other it gets more solid in the back and you get to know what each other is going to do. (Jacob) Kemper played great tonight as he always does. (Jacob) Speed, it's been a good partnership with him and then Dylan (Asher) is always solid on the right so I think we have been coming along really well."

Perinovic's goal came on a header off a free kick from the left corner. Cedergren has talked about how great Perinovic is in the air and they have been working on set pieces attempting to get him opportunities to score.

Being good in the air is one thing but it's a two-way street. There needs to be a good service into the box in order for Perinovic to have a chance. Pettys served a great ball to the far post and Perinovic found the back of the net for his first career goal.

"It was great because we have been working a lot on set pieces in practice," Perinovic said. "It was nice to get one and especially to go up 2-1. Pettys kept trying to go near post but it was so crowded in there so I told him to go far post and he played a great ball in. Give him all the credit on the service."

Pettys is another player who has brought a lot of energy to the squad. He started the year playing outside back and has since made the transition to midfielder. The move looks to be brilliant as Pettys has brought another dynamic to the offense using his hustle and knowledge of the game.

Pettys is someone the Cats can play through because he is so smart with the ball and makes good decisions. He led the team in passing/completion ratio against Louisville at 93 percent and gives UK a chance with his lethal leg on free kicks.

It was Pettys' assist to Perinovic that gave UK the lead and he sealed the game as he stepped up and drilled a penalty kick.

"I think Charley's got an engine that never stops running," Cedergren said. "For Charley, I think that's sometimes his biggest strength is to just keep going. He was very confident with the penalty kick, made good service with the free kicks and he filled in fullback for us when we were trying to figure out our system. Now he's playing wide midfield I think he can add even more going forward."

Riding an upset over Louisville, the Cats kept their momentum going tonight and seek to make it three in a row as they travel to Evansville this Saturday. First things first though, Kentucky took care of business tonight and really showed some swagger out on the field.

They allowed a tying goal in the second half but instead of getting down on themselves, stepped back up with their heads held high and used a team effort to get back-to-back wins.

"We came off a big emotional win against Louisville on Friday," Cedergren said. "It was really important for us to come out and keep that momentum going. I think we did that tonight, we came out a little slow in the first half but picked it back up and we all worked for each other and ended up getting the win."

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