For 37 minutes of Tuesday’s regional girls soccer game between No. 4 Lawrence High and No. 5 Free State at LHS, it was the Firebirds who looked like the more aggressive and hungrier club.
That all changed in a matter of seconds, when a scrum for a 50-50 ball between Lawrence’s Megan Andrews and a trio of Free State defenders slipped to the right foot of Kaley Tesdahl, who stood all alone in front of the net with plenty of time to make a decision.
If there’s one player on the Lions’ roster who knows what to do in a situation like that, it’s Tesdahl. Without hesitating, the Lions’ leading scorer ripped a low rocket to the right of Free State goalkeeper Elena Auer and into the net to give the Lions the lead just before halftime.
In a game that LHS won, 2-0, by tacking on a late goal, the conversion proved to be the game-winner and propelled the Lions into Thursday’s regional championship match at Washburn Rural.
“In any sport, in any game, a late goal like that is absolutely crucial,” LHS coach Matt Anderson said. “It gives you a little momentum and completely deflates your opponent.”
Although the Firebirds played hard to the end, they never appeared to overcome Tesdahl’s goal and spent the second half frantically trying to catch up instead of dictating the pace.
“I thought we gave them a gift,” FSHS coach Jason Pendleton said. “We had dominated the first half, but then gave up a late goal, and that completely changed the tone of the game.”
In the second half, the Lions were more aggressive from the start, securing two corner kicks and three more quality scoring chances in the first five minutes of play. The Lions’ newfound intensity did not produce an immediate goal, but did establish LHS as the aggressor in a game which lacked such a role for so long.
Playing with the wind in the second half, the Lions (8-7) continued to pepper the FSHS zone while the Firebirds (5-10-2) held on for dear life.
Two minutes after nearly tying the game on an indirect free kick from Hannah Carlson that hit the post, the Firebirds saw their deficit double when Lawrence’s Marley Sutter corralled an unsuccessful clear attempt and deposited a shot just inside the far post and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
Sutter’s goal was the culmination of an afternoon in which she lowered her head, lunged her shoulders and left everything on the field.
“This was such a big game, I really couldn’t do anything other than play as hard as I possibly could,” Sutter said.
Tuesday’s victory sets up a familiar scenario for the Lions, who will travel to Washburn Rural for Thursday’s 6 p.m. regional championship game.
Washburn Rural has ended Lawrence’s season in each of the past two years, including a 1-0, double-overtime heartbreaker a season ago.
The Junior Blues (13-3) enter Thursday’s game as the top overall seed.
“We’ve been close to beating them so many times,” LHS senior Stef Stuever said. “It’s great to win this game for so many reasons. It was regionals, it was on our turf, it was Free State.
“We knew we weren’t going to have the game handed to us, we were going to have to earn it. Now that we have, we can look ahead to Thursday.”
Added Sutter: “I know we can do it. It’s going to take a lot more than we brought today. We have to be intense and ready to go right from the start.”