Free State advances, Lions’ season comes to an end at 6A state soccer playoffs
Topeka — Capped by a goal with six and a half minutes remaining, the Free State High soccer team won its opening-round playoff game against Topeka High 1-0 on Tuesday night.
The goal came off the foot of Mason Lester, who fired home the game winner from just outside of the 18-yard box.
“Anytime an 11 seed can come in and get a win against the 6 seed at their home, I think that’s difficult,” Free State coach Joe Waldron said. “Their back line was strong. Their goalkeeper was outstanding. It’s tough. It’s hard work getting a goal against these guys.”
Despite a battle in the midfield early on, Free State (7-7-2) threatened Topeka High (11-6) multiple times in the final third, but was unable to find the back of the net despite four early shots. As the pressure mounted, the Firebirds nearly had the initial goal early, but a double-save from Trojans goalkeeper Billy Lutz denied Free State the opener.
The Firebirds nearly found the net again a little over halfway into the first half, when a header off of Cam Stutler bounced before hitting off the crossbar and was cleared away.
As the first half progressed, the game continued to slow down, but Topeka forced Free State goalkeeper Ben Barnett into a crucial, diving save to prevent the Trojans from scoring first.
The game was a scoreless draw at halftime, but the Firebirds finished the half with nine shots compared to just four by the Trojans. Lutz was a big reason for the lack of goals as he finished with four saves in the first half.
Free State again threatened to score early in the second half, when JJ Zheng had a one-on-one breakaway. But Lutz made another difficult save to keep the Firebirds off the scoreboard yet again.
That pace continued as time dwindled to less than 10 minutes remaining, with both teams fighting for every inch.
But with six and a half minutes left to play, the Firebirds broke through. With the ball just outside of the box, it fell to Lester and he fired home a shot that reached the back of the net to give Free State the lead with little time remaining.
“I just was watching the keeper for most of the game and he was a really aggressive guy, came out a lot,” Lester said. “So when I saw the ball was coming to my teammate, I knew he would come out and try to punch it away. So I decided to sit back, wait for it and see what the play would develop to. I guess I kind of got lucky with that ball coming right to me.”
Topeka was unable to find the equalizer and Free State closed out the 1-0 victory. Free State outshot the Trojans 17 to 7 on the night and Barnett finished the game with two saves and the shutout.
Next up, the Firebirds will hit the road to face Wichita East on Thursday with a spot at state on the line.
LHS falls to Washburn Rural
The Lawrence High soccer team’s season came to an end on Tuesday night, with a 3-1 loss at Washburn Rural in Topeka.
The Lions (6-11-1) fought throughout the night and trailed just 1-0 at halftime. But Rural (14-3) added two goals in the second half and the LHS offense could not keep up.
LHS senior Carson Schraad scored the lone goal of the night for the Lions. It was his first goal of the season.
After the loss, LHS coach Brandon Daley said he was proud of the way his team “played for one another and played with pride in their program,” adding that the LHS seniors left the program in better shape than they found it.
The seniors who experienced their final game for the Lions on Tuesday night were: Schraad, Cale Scott, Carson Cole, Ayden Ammann, Aidan Orth, Jake Everhart, Adam Stoddard, Jack Doyle, Jack Stutler, Arlo Paden and Sofyan Abuhamida.
“Despite the world being driven by immediate results, the victories of this group weren’t always on the scoreboard,” Daley said. “It was in the classroom, in the community, in their future families and work places. This group accepted the tough task of being program builders, not maintainers. They trusted the coaching staff, bought into values and led by example. Their victories will come in the years to come in how they carry themselves and make the people around them better. The team as a whole truly exhibited what it meant to be a Chesty Lion day in and day out.”
The 15th-seeded Lions advanced to play No. 2 WRHS with a 10-0 mercy rule win over Wichita South in the play-in game on Monday night.
Scott scored five of the Lions’ 10 goals in that one, bringing his season total to 25, the most in Class 6A in the eastern part of the state. Scott led the Sunflower League in scoring this season, which was no small feat considering the league landed the top four seeds on the east side of the state playoff bracket.