Free State High freshman Sabrea Platz received the kind of introduction to the City Showdown that Firebirds and Lions alike dream about.
“There’s an intensity in this game that’s unmatched anywhere else,” Platz said Thursday evening at Lawrence High. “It’s insane.”
Young as Platz is, she would know. Playing in her first rivalry game, the freshman extended her entire body across the turf in front of Lawrence’s goal in the 76th minute to get a toe on the ball, sneaking it inside the left post and across the line for a 2-1 Free State victory.
Before she could lift her body off the ground to celebrate, a gang of her fellow Firebirds dog-piled on top of her.
“It was amazing. I guess I was in shock,” a smiling Platz said seconds before taking the field to play in the junior varsity game that followed. “I saw all my teammates, and they were all congratulating me.”
Free State (5-3) needed some kind of break to avoid losing to the Lions (4-6) for the first time since 2009. When senior Maddie Dieker sent the ball in Platz’s direction, it made up for a game’s worth of missed chances — FSHS out-shot LHS, 24-6.
The opportunistic freshman saw the ball in front of her as LHS goalkeeper Alex Ewy (12 saves) charged in her direction. But she showed the poise of a veteran by not trying to blast the ball through the back of the goal.
“When you’re that close to the net,” Platz explained, “you don’t have to add anything on it, but place it, or it will go off target.”
Firebirds senior Maren Kahler, who gave her team a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute, also via a Dieker assist, said Platz sacrificed her body by hitting the turf to get the touch that would give Free State a victory. So her teammates couldn’t help piling on.
“It’s more exciting when it’s close, I feel,” Kahler said. “To keep it close and then to do that was just great.”
LHS, which put just two shots on goal in the first half, trailed for 35 minutes before tying Free State shortly after halftime. Lions senior Addison Campbell and FSHS senior goalkeeper Annie Hierl (four saves) converged on a loose ball in the box. As Hierl slid in to cover the ball, she didn’t get a full grasp on it, and Campbell fired it into an empty net in the 47th minute.
FSHS coach Kelly Barah said that play made the game much closer, but far more troubling was Free State’s play on the opposite side of the field.
“We just couldn’t find a way to tuck a couple more goals in,” Barah said after his team put 15 shots on goal, “so our finishing wasn’t on point today.”
Between Ewy’s play in goal — she stayed in the game after getting hit on the head on a diving save — and the ability of the Lions’ Elaine Harris, Danielle Campbell and Skylar Drum to prevent even more FSHS attacks, the game remained close, which couldn’t be said of the last time the rivals faced. Second-year LHS coach Justin Young remembered well how his team gave up four second-half goals to Free State last spring, following a scoreless first half. This matchup took on a completely different feel.
“We did the work on and off the ball early,” Young said, “and we put them under pressure when we needed to, as opposed to letting them bring the game to us.”
The Lions’ biggest issue was their comparative lack of shots on goal — just five. Between Hanna Heline shielding off attackers, Jessica Ferguson heading away passes and Olivia Hodison making life miserable for Lions that came in her direction, Free State’s last line of defense caused much of Lawrence’s struggles.
Still, Addison Campbell couldn’t help but notice the Lions’ fight, which hadn’t always existed in the past.
“It was hard, but honestly, I felt really good about the game just because we got unlucky with some bad calls and some missed shots,” the senior said. “The score didn’t reflect how we played. They ended up finishing better than we did.”