Not how it was supposed to end
Title hopes dashed by 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Maranatha
After the Basehor-Linwood High School soccer team lost to Maranatha Academy 3-1 on Tuesday, the fans at BLHS lined the fence around the field. One by one the Bobcats filed through and accepted high fives and congratulations for their best season to date.
BLHS senior Austin Knipp was the last one off the field. He trudged slowly toward the line of parents and schoolmates, his head down, fighting back tears. He didn't look up when the announcer asked that everyone congratulate him on scoring his 100th career goal earlier in the game. Even when his classmates started chanting his name, he still couldn't find comfort. This one just hurt too much.
Knipp and fellow senior Eric Francis saw their high school careers end Tuesday night, and had to watch as their opponents from Maranatha celebrated for the second consecutive year. Last year the Eagles beat the Bobcats in the playoffs' first round. This year, they beat them in the state quarterfinals, just one game away from a trip to Bethel College and the state tournament's final four.
"They both hurt in their own ways," BLHS coach Kevin Vincent said of his team's consecutive playoff losses to Maranatha. "Getting this close, we were starting to smell it. Some of the kids have worked so hard for so long, it's difficult as a coach to see them hurting."
One of those kids was certainly Knipp. After two huge second halves led the Bobcats to playoff wins over Maur Hill and De Soto, it looked like this could be the year the senior finally realized his dream of playing in a state championship.
When Knipp scored his 100th career goal just one minute into Tuesday's game, it only reinforced the notion that BLHS was a team of destiny this year.
The goal was set up by a gutsy decision by Vincent. After Knipp had played four full seasons at forward, Vincent trotted him out as his center midfielder to start the game, a move that clearly caught Maranatha off guard.
"I just thought it would get Austin more touches, make him harder to single out," Vincent said.
The strategy worked almost immediately. Knipp passed the ball up field to Stephen Millison, who was one-on-one with the Maranatha sweeper. Millison carried the ball to the left side of the box and then waited, holding off the defender until he could roll a pass across the middle. Knipp streaked in from the midfield and hit a perfect one-touch shot, rocketing the ball into the lower-right corner.
For the first time in three playoff games, the Bobcats had a first-half lead, at 1-0. But there were still 79 minutes to play and the Eagles, with 12 seniors and a wealth of big-game experience, weren't about to panic.
Maranatha went into its short passing game and immediately began to dominate possession. In the 11th minute the Eagles crashed the net and scored on a rebound after Matt Murrell made a great save for BLHS on the initial shot.
The Bobcats survived a couple point-blank misses by Maranatha, and looked as though they might be able to take the tie into halftime. But Maranatha junior Zach Zarda took advantage of some miscommunication by the defense nine minutes before the break.
Three BLHS defenders converged on a ball deep in their own zone, but none of them cleared it. A weak pass was intercepted by Zarda, who beat Murrell with a hard, low shot inside the near post.
The Bobcats went into halftime down 2-1. In their first two playoff games they'd outscored their opponents 10-0 in the second half, but there would be no scoring barrage Tuesday. The Eagles' defenders, led by all-state senior Jesse Nelson, were rock solid, and allowed just one shot on goal in the second half.
"Number 13 (Nelson), he was all over the place," Vincent said. "He's probably one of the best defensive players we've seen all year."
Maranatha senior forward Zeke Hornbaker put the game away in the 65th minute when he fired a precision shot off the inside of the right post for the Eagles' third goal in a row.
The Bobcats scrambled until the very last second, but couldn't mount a serious scoring opportunity. As the final whistle sounded, several of them collapsed on the field. Most were comforted by the idea of coming back for another shot at a championship next year. But for Knipp and Francis, the only comfort was kind words from family and friends.
Knipp, ever the classly leader, took time to answer a few questions, probably the last thing he wanted to do. Although extremely disappointed with Tuesday's outcome, he said this year's playoff run was special.
"I had a great time with all the people on the team," Knipp said. "And it felt really good to see everybody from Basehor here watching. That might have been the best part."
Even though he was going through one of the toughest moments of his career, Knipp wanted to make sure that all the fans who had supported him and the Bobcats knew that he appreciated it.
For a look back on the Bobcats' regional championship victory over De Soto last Friday, see page 5B.