Defending champs end Bobcats’ season in 4 OTs
The Basehor-Linwood High School soccer team ended its season Tuesday, but not before the Bobcats proved that with Zach Lowe in goal they could play with anyone, even the defending state champs.
Lowe made 21 saves, many of them professional-quality, to hold the Bobcats in the game until the fourth overtime, when the Maranatha Eagles scored the golden goal to win, 4-3.
BLHS finished the regular season 7-9, its best record in years, and coach Kevin Vincent had hoped his team might get a home playoff game, or at least a favorable draw in the first round. Instead Vincent and the Bobcats had to play on the road against Maranatha, the state's top 4A team last season.
"It was just luck of the draw," Vincent said. "They play a lot of 6A schools, they play an extremely tough schedule and when the records came out, they were tied with two other teams. It was a draw out of a hat, and it could have been anything from Imac to Louisburg to, unfortunately, Maranatha. They're a great team."
Still, on Tuesday the Bobcats gave them all they could handle for 107 minutes.
The Eagles controlled play early with short, precise passes, but couldn't figure out Lowe. Meanwhile the Bobcats were content to play long balls up field and hope that Austin Knipp could get to them. As usual, Knipp didn't disappoint, scoring on his first shot of the game.
Travis Daley lifted a pass from midfield over the defense to Knipp. Knipp got to it on the right side of the box and, with a defender on his hip, bounced it across the net into the lower-left corner. The early goal, scored in the third minute, gave the Bobcats a big lift.
"There was a little intimidation factor in the beginning," Vincent said. "For us to get on the board first, we felt like we could play with them."
The way Lowe was playing, the Bobcats could have hung with anyone. A spectacular diving save stopped a Maranatha breakaway in the 13th minute. Another dive stopped a rocket shot that appeared headed for the lower-left corner in the 20th minute.
Lowe made his only mistake in the 29th minute, when he came out too far and left the goal open behind him. But sophomore defender Sam Seaman had his back, sliding in front of the net and sweeping the ball out of bounds.
Seaman's play momentarily preserved the lead, but Maranatha was able to cash in on the ensuing corner kick and tie it up. The goal seemed to deflate the BLHS defense a little, as it gave up another one less than a minute later.
The lightning-quick turnaround might have sunk a team with lesser heart. But Knipp lifted the Bobcats once again, taking a pass from Ryan Sirridge and banging it over the keeper's head, off the crossbar and in.
Knipp's goal tied the game in the 37th minute, but the Bobcats were able to take the tie into halftime only because Lowe laid out and stopped another breakaway two minutes later.
"That kid's an animal," fellow senior James Bishop said of Lowe. "If he's not all-state, I don't know; I'd really like to see the goalie who is."
Ten minutes into the second half Knipp completed his hat trick with his most skillful goal yet. He baffled the goalie on a 35-yard free kick by curving it beautifully into the upper-right corner. It wasn't the first game in which Knipp had scored three times, but it was probably the biggest.
"This game was just something different from all the other ones," Knipp said. "We had more heart, I think. It made it hard to have the final whistle blow."
Indeed, the Bobcats' heart was apparent in even their smallest players. It was Tanner Bowers who absorbed the foul that led to Knipp's free kick goal. He and Sirridge routinely outfought larger players for loose balls.
Still, Maranatha wasn't willing to concede its championship title. In the 62nd minute Maranatha's Alec Lemmon dribbled through the defense and unleashed a wicked shot that Lowe had no chance at. Both teams frantically tried to break the tie, but regulation ended at 3-3.
The Bobcats' went into overtime without their second-leading scorer, Stephen Millison. Millison was injured late in the second half and bravely tried to walk it off, but Vincent pulled him when he saw he wasn't 100 percent.
Basehor-Linwood's offense seemed hamstrung with Millison out and fatigue setting in. The Bobcats managed just one shot on goal through all four overtime periods. In the end the Bobcats just had nothing left to give offensively. Bishop had played over 100 minutes on a sprained ankle and Knipp had been fighting double and triple-teams all day.
"I think we were gassed, but we just had so much heart and pride today that it kept us going," Knipp said. "I know there was plenty of times when I could have died out there and just laid down."
Still the game went to four overtimes largely because of Lowe, who held the Bobcats up long after they should have been done.
Maranatha pummeled him with 10 shots on goal in overtime and hit both posts and the crossbar. It wasn't until the 107th minute that the Eagles finally beat him. On a play in which it appeared two Maranatha players may have been offsides, Lemmon got a perfect cross and deflected it in.
Despite the ending, Bishop said it had to be one of the top three games he'd ever played in. Still, moral victories were small consolation on a day he saw his high school soccer career end. A mixture of pride and intense disappointment battled for dominance as he tried to express how he felt after the game.
"I can't describe it," he finally said.
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