The Free State High boys soccer team might have walked away pleased with its second-half effort Thursday, but the Firebirds came away winners because of their first-half finishes and fortunes.
Despite not playing its best in the opening minutes, Free State was opportunistic with its chances in a 2-0 victory over Shawnee Heights.
"We didn't deserve to be up," Free State coach Jason Pendleton said, "but soccer may be the only sport where you can get completely outplayed yet still have some success."
Still, the coach left the field content after his team earned the victory in the second half.
Though the Firebirds did not score, they did set up numerous scoring chances and also possessed the ball better, taking Heights out of its game.
"We totally dominated the second half," Free State forward Greg Glatz said. "They had no opportunities, really."
After watching Heights have most of the offensive chances early, Glatz gave Free State the lead on the team's first shot.
In the 19th minute, Brian Bracciano sent a cross from the right side to the middle of the Heights defense.
The ball grazed over the head of Free State's Eric Slan, landing at the feet of Glatz, who made it 1-0 with a blast into the side net.
Bracciano also assisted the second goal in the 30th minute, though he admitted to being a little luckier on this one.
From the right side he again attempted to cross it to a teammate in the box.
"I tried to kick that across," Bracciano said, "and kind of shanked it."
The ball did the rest from there. It took one hop over a Heights defender, then somehow took another bounce to bound over a second Thunderbird and fall to Free State's Alex Clayton.
The sophomore made good on his opportunity, popping the top of the net to give Free State a commanding 2-0 advantage.
All of this despite less-than-stellar play from the Firebirds in the opening half.
"We were very fortunate to not be down several goals after the first 15 minutes," Pendleton said, "because they came out and were playing at a different speed than us and literally were a much better team."
The victory snaps a two-game losing streak against the Thunderbirds, who finished second in Class 5A a year ago. Heights already has defeated traditional soccer powerhouse Washburn Rural this season.
The Free State defense posted its second consecutive shutout after blanking Topeka High in a 0-0 tie this week.
The Firebirds improved to 6-2-1.
Though he knows his team was somewhat fortunate to get the early goals, Pendleton complimented his team for taking advantage of the chances.
"The reason I like the game so much is because it's a lot like life. It's not so much how many opportunities you get, it's what you do with the ones you do get," Pendleton said. "Fortunately, we were able to capitalize in the first half."