It was difficult to believe, with the type of pressure put on Mead’s defense by Lewis and Clark, that the Tigers wouldn’t score in the District 8 4A soccer title match.
But the Panthers, following an early goal, proved up to the task over the game’s final 65 minutes. They held onto the 1-0 advantage for top seeding to regional.
The past two years have been tough on regular-season champions. Last year, as co-GSL champ and top district seed, Mead was upended by the team it had beaten in regular season, Central Valley.
Tuesday at Albi Stadium, it was the Panthers’ turn, reversing their regular-season loss to the Tigers. They did it with a new formation born of necessity because scoring leader Nick Hamer was resting an injured knee.
“We actually changed formations because we didn’t have him,” coach Matt Stueckle said. “We added another wide midfielder and had one less front runner and it worked out. I thought we played pretty well considering we haven’t played that formation the whole season.”
LC peppered Mead goalkeepers – sophomore Curtis Hill came in to relieve injured regular Zach Knechtges – with nearly 13 shots over the final three-quarters of the match.
“He hadn’t played a lot of minutes the second half of the season,” Stueckle said of Hill.
The defense, including senior veterans Chance Johnstone and Kyle Erb, bent but didn’t break. Erb’s task was to neutralize LC’s outside attackers.
“They were coming at us from everywhere, but we were strong, communicated well and made good clearances,” Johnstone said.
Hill was superb, handling the ball 13 times in the second half.
The lone goal came 7 minutes into the contest on a nearly perfect corner kick by Johnstone.
The ball sailed across the goal mouth and over the hands of LC keeper Chris Hollman to the far post.
Lanky Erik Hansen, who had opportunistically scored the goal in Mead’s first-round victory, was in the right place again and headed the kick crisply into the open net.
“I think it was a little bit lucky,” Johnstone said of his kick. “But Erik was there to finish it.”
Mead (12-3) spent pretty much the entire first 15 minutes in LC’s end of the field. But the worm turned and the Tigers (10-4) took control of the game. But at the 38-minute mark, veteran Jack Gilles hyperextended his knee and was lost to the team.
The second half was all LC on the attack, orchestrated by Casey Ames in the middle.
Several times the Tigers had pretty three- and four-player passing combinations that set up potential game-tying shots to no avail.
“It happens,” Tigers coach Casey Curtis said of the scoring futility. “We gave them some early opportunities. They got their goal off a set piece and protected their lead. I thought their goalie made some nice saves.”
LC travels and Mead stays home for Saturday’s regional against Davis or Kamiakin.
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