Free State boys soccer earns hard-fought 2-1 win over Lawrence High in City Showdown
Free State’s Ben Barnett didn’t want to let go of the ball after safely corralling Mason Anderson’s final attempt just as the clock expired. A celebration by FSHS ensued following a hard-fought 2-1 win over Lawrence High at LHS on Thursday.
While players were hugging each other in celebration, Barnett slowly made his way away from the net with the soccer ball firmly in his grasp. The sophomore goalkeeper was in disbelief, as he took it all in after making multiple saves in the final minutes of a competitive match in the latest installment of the City Showdown.
Thursday was Barnett’s first real varsity action after playing sparingly as a freshman, mostly when the game was out of hand. Yet Barnett rose to the challenge in Free State’s season opener, and walked away one of the standouts of the match because of it.
“The team deserved that with two goals, what more could I ask,” Barnett said. “It was nerve-wracking, especially when you come in (when you have only) played JV. It’s a whole different ball game.”
Barnett’s stellar play down the stretch was necessary after surrendering a score earlier in the match. Barnett checked into the game with about 30 minutes left to play, and gave up a score to Lawrence (3-1) about 10 minutes later.
LHS junior Levi Hinson launched a free kick toward the goal, which was deflected by Barnett. Lawrence senior Nicholas Davies was in the right place at the right time, and came through with a goal on the putback to even the score at 1-1. The equalizer was crucial after senior Yoav Gillath gave Free State an early 1-0 lead within the first three minutes of the second half.
Still, the Firebirds found a way to respond just as they did when they defeated the Lions in the regional championship a year ago in a match that was ultimately decided by penalty kicks. This time around, though, junior Joon Chun made sure that it would end in regulation.
With five minutes to go, Chun got behind the LHS defense and delivered the game-winning score from the left side. The ball got past Lawrence junior goalkeeper Grant Glasgow, who was coming off back-to-back shutouts in the team’s 3-0 start to the season.
“We came to win,” Chun said. “We’ve been practicing every day and we have been working hard. We battled. It was just a team effort.”
Free State’s defense still had to make a number of plays down the stretch to seal the game. Anderson, a senior who already has six scores on the season, had several opportunities to even things up.
But every time, up until that final whistle, Barnett denied any ball from getting past him.
“It was a fun game and I always enjoy watching these two teams play,” LHS head coach Mike Murphy said. “We took some good shots. Their keeper, tip the cap to him, he played really well tonight. I thought he did a great job coming off the bench.”
The first half was a defensive showing, though both teams missed their fair share of opportunities.
Lawrence had a few different corner attempts within the first 13 minutes, but none of them were close enough to put pressure on Free State. The Firebirds threatened first, when senior Jackson Barnett had a strong run before being denied by Lawrence’s backline.
The Lions immediately responded on the counter, but Anderson missed right on his breakaway chance. And that was the theme for the rest of the first half, as both FSHS and LHS couldn’t seem to capitalize on its best looks at the goal.
“In a game like this, that momentum of scoring the first goal is pretty huge,” Murphy said. “We went that whole first half without anything to show for it.”
Many of those missed looks were mostly a credit to strong defensive play on both sides of the ball. Free State senior Caleb Prescott and Glasgow were both impressive in their respective roles at goalkeeper.
Both backlines set the tone with physical play whenever either offense appeared to get near the goal. Free State defenders Aaron Neff and Dawson Pfannenstiel halted many of Lawrence’s attacks. As did LHS defenders Nicholas Davies, Sam Gordon-Ross and Tanner Glanton on the other end.
While it was a physical match, one particular moment in the first half illustrated what makes the cross-town clash so special. It was also a reminder of the new guidelines while having competition during a pandemic.
With five minutes remaining in the first period, Free State senior Zach Goertzen went down with an injury and had to have a trainer come look at him. Gordon-Ross and Glanton immediately went to check on him, but were warned by the official to back up because of COVID.
A similar situation occurred when Chun dealt with cramps in the second half, and Glanton tried to help stretch him out. Chun then scored the decisive goal about eight minutes later for the Firebirds, who are looking to build off last season after winning their first regional title in 10 years.
“I think we have a shot this season,” Chun said. “There is still a lot of work to be done. We have a new squad. I think we have a lot of potential.”
Free State will play host to De Soto at 6:30 p.m. Monday, while Lawrence will travel to Mill Valley at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.