Free State High girls soccer coach Jason Pendleton put a realistic spin on his team’s 3-0 loss to Shawnee Mission East on Tuesday at FSHS.
“If you do well on half the test, you still flunk,” Pendleton said. “We did OK on the multiple-choice section today, but now we need to do better on the essay.”
In many ways, the Firebirds aced the first half, trailing just 1-0 at the break against the stronger, faster, more skilled Lancers.
The Firebirds actually had a chance to draw first blood when junior Hannah Carlson sent a perfect ball into the SM East box from 40 yards out just 11 minutes into the contest. Carlson’s pass forced East’s goalie to extend to the top of the box before getting a leg on it. But after ricocheting off of the goalkeeper’s shins, the ball bounced harmlessly 20 yards from the goal with no Firebirds able to get a foot on it.
That proved to be one of the few chances the Free State offense generated Tuesday, as nearly 70 minutes of the 80-minute game were played in the Firebirds’ defensive zone.
“It’s kind of uncomfortable having so much pressure put on you the entire game,” junior defender Mckenzie Liebl said. “But our back line works really well together, and we try to help each other out all the time.”
For the most part, the Free State defense played well enough to keep the Firebirds in the game. But a pair of mental lapses landed them on the wrong side of Tuesday’s outcome.
The first came less than a minute into the second half, as SM East’s Andie Mitchell scored the Lancers’ second goal with 39:15 to play. After thwarting a pair of SME chances deep in Free State’s zone, Mitchell connected on her team’s third try. Twenty-five minutes later, SME sophomore Molly Rappold ripped a shot through the arms of Free State goalkeeper Mariah Dickson and into the net to set the final margin.
“Two of the three goals they scored were because of things we didn’t do,” Pendleton said. “Not necessarily things they did.”
Free State’s only real scoring chance of the second half came 16 minutes in when a strong counter-attack put two Firebirds within shoelaces of the net. But while Hillary Yoder and Amber Hicks scrambled to push the ball over the goal line, a Shawnee Mission East defender slipped behind them and poked the ball out of harm’s way.
“I don’t know how we didn’t score that,” Pendleton said. “We take advantage there and it cuts the lead to 2-1 and it might have been a different ballgame.”
Instead, the Lancers dished out more of the same in a game that tested the Firebirds physically as much as mentally.
With around 20 minutes to play in the game, Free State junior Grace Lang rose for a free ball in front of the Firebirds’ goal and tumbled to the turf after being smacked in the nose by the head of a SM East forward. Although the blow left Lang bloodied and knocked her out for the remainder of the game, her toughness demonstrated that the Firebirds (3-4-1) would not quit.
“I think today showed that if we train and practice hardcore we have a chance to play with most teams,” Pendleton said. “Unfortunately, moral victories still go down as losses.”
Next up, Free State will play host to Olathe South at 4 p.m. Thursday.