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High School Sports

Free State falters in state soccer final

Free State's Diego Gonzalez (10) bends down at midfield as the clock runs out at the end of the state championship game on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009.

Free State's Diego Gonzalez (10) bends down at midfield as the clock runs out at the end of the state championship game on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009.

November 8, 2009

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Firebirds fall in state final

Free State's soccer team was shutout in its first state championship game. The Firebirds end the season with the best season record in the school's soccer history. Enlarge video

— The dress looked glamorous and the crown was the right fit, but the wardrobe was not quite complete.

Instead of walking away as the belle of the ball, the Free State High boys soccer team came up one victory short, falling Saturday to Washburn Rural, 3-0, in the Class 6A state championship game at Blue Valley District Soccer Complex.

“Cinderella’s slipper had a little crack in it here at the end,” Free State coach Jason Pendleton said. “But it was nice wearing her shoes for a while, I can tell you that.”

There wasn’t much worth remembering from the Firebirds’ first appearance in the state championship game. Unless, of course, you consider that just being there was a feat in itself.

“Looking at the sum of the season, it was pretty good for us,” Pendleton said. “Sixteen wins, three more than ever before in school history, and we end up in the state championship game. It’s painful to know that we lost, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty amazing feeling to know what all we accomplished.”

Throughout the season, the Firebirds rode their defense to victory. Saturday, that defense was victimized by a batch of nerves and a supremely talented opponent.

Washburn Rural scored the game’s all-important first goal at the 31:57 mark of the first half. After maintaining possession deep in Free State territory for most of the first 10 minutes, Rural broke through when Eric Semjenow scored on a header off a throw-in. Semjenow never actually hit the header toward the net, instead lifting it high into the air in front of the FSHS goal. As the ball came down, it slipped between the outstretched arm of Free State goalkeeper Jackson McClure and the crossbar and bounced softly across the goal line.

“It’s always good to get that first goal,” Free State junior Diego Gonzalez said. “It just gives you so much momentum and puts pressure on the other team. Last night (in a 2-0 victory against Dodge City in the semis) we got it. Today, they got it.”

The Junior Blues added two more goals in the first half — another by Semjenow at 13:58 and the back-breaker by Joesph Welch at 4:49 — and entered the halftime break with a commanding three-goal lead.

Considering the Firebirds had only given up three goals once in a game all season, the odds certainly were stacked against a Free State comeback in the second half. With that in mind, Pendleton talked to his team about things like effort, energy and having nothing to lose.

“We just appealed to their sense of pride,” Pendleton said. “We’re a better team than that, we deserved to show better than that, and we didn’t want to get embarrassed. The first half wasn’t anything near what we were capable of doing. And in the second half, I thought we competed and imposed our will on them at times.”

Added FSHS senior Daniel Chance: “The main focus of our halftime speech was about coming out and playing with some pride. The first half was horrendous, and I wanted to finish the season strong. I’m definitely proud of the guys in the second half.”

Although the Firebirds were unable to score, they did appear to belong. They controlled the pace of play for much of the second frame and actually generated a few solid scoring chances. Each time, however, the Rural defense — in particular goalkeeper Justin Ives — was up to the challenge.

Free State finished the season at 16-5 overall, while Washburn Rural finished 20-1. Although the Firebirds were heartbroken by Saturday’s loss, many of them were able to tip their caps to Washburn Rural after the loss.

“They’re for sure the better team,” Gonzalez said. “They proved it today. That’s why they’re the champions.”

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