The Free State High girls soccer team shut out Tecumseh Shawnee Heights for 30 minutes before the bottom fell out on its season opener.
Heights scored four goals in the final 50 minutes -- three of them in the second half -- and drilled the Firebirds, 4-0, Tuesday afternoon at FSHS.
"All in all, I'd mark it up to the fact that they're good, we're a little bit inexperienced in some areas, and we made some key errors that they punished us for," Free State coach Jason Pendleton said.
Experience, or lack thereof, certainly played a noticeable role in the game. The Firebirds were well aware that the T-Birds placed third at state last year in Class 5A, and that they were the preseason No. 2 team in the state.
Shawnee Heights (1-0) returned almost every starter from a year ago -- including all-state picks Kim Kilmartin (goalie), Ashlee Hundley (defense), and Jessica Mainz (midfield). Free State started three freshmen.
Heights' experience hardly fazed the Firebirds (0-1) for most of the first half, however. Free State made crisp passes and put pressure on the T-Birds' defense. Senior forward Rebekah Berkley fired two direct kicks just over the crossbar, and blasted another shot on goal, but wasn't able to rattle Kilmartin.
The T-Birds patiently dueled with Free State's midfield but had trouble generating attacks against the defensive efforts of Nicki Riggins, Emilie Humbarger, Banaka Okwuone and Claire Wilkinson.
"We were all just excited to be out there," senior midfielder Wallis Romzek said of Free State's strong early showing. "I hadn't played since November, so I wanted to get out there and play, as we all did. Everybody was going real hard in the first half, and it worked out well."
The turning point came during the 30th minute when Mainz put her foot on a loose ball in the goalie box and tapped it into the net, giving Heights a 1-0 lead.
Once the T-Birds started scoring, they continued to build momentum. Mainz punched in her second goal in the 51st minute when she put back her own miss that ricocheted off FSHS freshman goalie Megan Hrenchir. Angela Wiseman scored for Heights nine minutes later on another scramble in the box, and Kelsi Simons tacked on an insurance goal in the 72nd minute.
Free State struggled to create scoring opportunities against the T-Birds' quick, stifling defense. Romzek and Nicole Lafond pushed the ball upfield to Berkley for two chances late in the game, but neither panned out.
"We seemed to make similar mistakes repeatedly in terms of losing marks at various times," Pendleton said. "Then we got some chances, but we weren't able to convert on them when we did get those chances."
The Firebirds play Manhattan at 11:45 a.m. Saturday at FSHS.