BLHS soccer team erases 2-0 deficit, earns regional championship 4-2
Courageous. Spirited. Exciting.
All are words that could be used to describe the Basehor-Linwood High School team's 4-2 victory over De Soto on Friday. The Bobcats trailed 2-0 at halftime, but junior midfielder Kyle Allen got them on the board in the 52nd minute and they scored three goals in the last nine minutes to win.
The Bobcats came into Friday's game with a better record, a higher seed and the home field advantage. But De Soto's roster included 11 seniors, all of them determined to extend their high school careers at least one more game.
It was a junior, though, who gave BLHS the most trouble. The Wildcats' leading scorer, Zach England, one of the most explosive players in class 4A, gave them fits with his ball skills. In the 25th minute England got a breakaway up the right side. BLHS sweeper Sam Seaman was right on his hip, but England still got off a hard, low shot that bounced under the arm of goalie Matt Murrell. It wasn't an easy save, but it was one that Murrell usually makes.
"It was devastating," Murrell said. "I know how much the state tournament means to (seniors) Austin (Knipp) and Eric (Francis). This is their last year, and I felt so bad when I let that by."
But Murrell was also able to make a number of saves that kept the Bobcats in the game during an uninspired first half. England beat him again, though, just three minutes before halftime. The junior, who stands no taller than 5-foot-5, was able to outleap a defender and flick a throw-in backward with his head for a goal.
"We knew he was their go-to person and we knew we were going to have to address him," BLHS coach Kevin Vincent said. "I had faith in our defense, but when you have a player that good..."
England's two goals put the Bobcats in a tough 2-0 position at halftime. The Bobcats had every reason to fold, but, 12 minutes into the second half, Allen gave them reason to hope. Justin Gripka lofted a free kick into the box that the goalie deflected but couldn't handle cleanly. Allen was at the right post, exactly where he needed to be, and knocked it in.
It was Allen's second goal of the season and the most important of his career.
"It was great, because it was the the goal that got us all rolling," Allen said.
In the past it's often been Knipp's goals that lifted the Bobcats' spirits, but, on Friday, Allen was able to give Knipp a lift.
"Let's just say I got scared," Knipp said of going down 2-0. "There was a point, a couple of minutes before we scored our first goal, when I thought this might be my last game on this field with these guys. Then we scored and I was like, 'uh-uh, that's not going to happen.'"
Knipp was the focus of some serious defensive attention Friday, after setting the state's career goals record earlier in the week. De Soto coach Darren Erpelding had a plan to slow Knipp that included assigning former DHS track standout Adam Justice to shadow him anywhere he went on the field.
"Adam can run for days. He can take six days off and still come back and outrun everyone," Erpelding told the De Soto Explorer newspaper earlier this week. "I told him he'll sleep, eat and live Austin Knipp -- I'll even cut out a picture for him to carry around."
Justice did an admirable job on Knipp for the game's first 71 minutes. But, with his high school soccer career in jeopardy, Knipp wouldn't be denied. In the 72nd minute Stephen Millison deflected a ball along the right side and Knipp chased it down. He fired a rocket shot into the right side of the net from a difficult angle.
As always, Knipp's goal lit a fire under the Bobcats, which was fueled by a home crowd that turned absolutely electric as soon as it hit the net. Four minutes later the Bobcats' senior chased down another loose ball and jammed it into the right side of the net to put the Bobcats up 3-2.
Ryan Sirridge added the insurance goal on a hustle play with just over two minutes remaining. The junior chased down a rebound after another free kick by Gripka and scored with his left foot from a seemingly impossible angle.
Sirridge's goal prompted a giddy group of BLHS students to begin chanting, "Ry-an, Ry-an," from the stands.
"It felt pretty good, but they really shouldn't have been cheering my name," Sirridge said. "It should have been 'Bobcats' because the whole team won this game."
After their second straight clutch second half, the Bobcats earned the chance to play Maranatha in the state quarterfinals in a game with more subplots than Seinfeld.
Knipp broke Maranatha alum Jon Lemmon's career goals record on Tuesday when he scored his 97th. Jon Lemmon's brother, Alec, was a senior last year on the Maranatha team that broke the Bobcats' hearts by knocking them out of the playoffs 4-3 in quadruple overtime. The current Eagles' team features Jon and Alec Lemmon's brother, Taylor, a freshman who's scored four goals this season.
"It's kind of strange," Knipp said of the growing connections between him and the Lemmons and BLHS and Maranatha. "But I'm thinking revenge, very much so."
For more on this game, and the Bobcats' state quarterfinal contest, see next Thursday's Sentinel.