If playing an attractive, flawless brand of soccer served as a requirement for advancing in the playoffs, Lawrence High might have been in trouble at home Tuesday night against Topeka.
It might not have been the Lions’ prettiest effort, but after looking a tad discombobulated in the opening minutes of their playoff opener, they disposed of Topeka, 2-0.
“That’s all that matters,” LHS coach Mike Murphy said afterward.
Lawrence (11-5-1) had dominated against the Trojans in a 6-0 victory earlier this season, but nothing came easily in the rematch. Particularly troubled by the first half, Murphy admitted his team looked out of sorts on certain occasions.
“It’s hard to explain sometimes what causes that,” the coach said, “whether it’s a lack of focus, a lack of intensity, maybe taking the game too lightly. Who knows?”
After misfiring on some shots and having other chances stymied by THS goalkeeper James Lucatero in the first half, the Lions finally slipped one past him in spectacular fashion in the 36th minute.
LHS senior Johannes Reiber played the ball out wide on the left sideline for classmate Gavin Fischer. As Fischer made his push, he could see Reiber keeping up along the same plane in the middle of the field. Once Fischer neared the corner, he sent a cross out in front of the goal.
“I knew if I got that in there, he would time the rest of it,” Fischer said.
He thought correctly. As the pass bent around Topeka’s defense and headed toward the box, Reiber thought he could either go low for a header or make a move with his foot. Reiber chose wisely, sliding in to get his right foot on the ball just as the cross landed 15 yards in front of the net.
“I just decided to kind of lunge for it and then I just knocked it right over his (the keeper’s) head,” Reiber said.
Lawrence out-shot THS 12-1 in the first half and 11-0 in the second half, finishing with 10 total shots on goal. Still, the Lions struggled to build on their 1-0 halftime lead. Reiber said those troubles can be focused on and fixed at practice.
“I think we were maybe a little bit lackadaisical, at least in the first half,” he said. “I don’t think we were using the wings as much as we usually do and that’s where we generate a lot of offense.”
A Robert Lyan penalty kick in the 73rd minute sealed the win over Topeka (5-9-3). The senior forward got fouled from behind in the box to earn the penalty. Lyan hammered his chance into the left side of the net as Lucatero dove in the opposite direction.
After the win, Murphy said he would have preferred to see a more fluid offensive attack in the postseason opener.
“Even though we didn’t put together a string of passes that got us a goal, we still controlled the game a little bit better in the second half,” Murphy said, “and I felt better about our effort, so that’s good.”
Lions keeper Jeff Mekus earned the easy shutout with senior defender Dalen Reed clearing the ball before THS could mount attacks and junior defender Connor Henrichs beating the Trojans’ forwards back in transition.
Fischer said the Lions didn’t mind playing ugly.
“We’re always happy when we get the win,” he said. “We’re definitely glad to be moving on and advancing to Manhattan.”
LHS will play Manhattan (12-4-1) on the road at 6 p.m. on Thursday in the Class 6A Central Regional 2 championship game.