Bobcats look vulnerable in split with Mill Valley, Piper
Last Wednesday the Basehor-Linwood soccer team took a 2-0 lead on Mill Valley only to see the Jaguars score three goals in the last 15 minutes and win 3-2. BLHS coach Kevin Vincent chose to look at it as a learning experience, writing on the team's Web site, "I know that this team will keep this game tucked away and won't allow themselves to be beaten like this again."
During Monday's game against Piper, Vincent had to be wondering if he spoke too soon. The Bobcats took a 2-0 lead over the Pirates in the second half, only to see it evaporate again in shockingly quick fashion. They would eventually win 4-3, but it took overtime to do it, and it wasn't the home field performance one would expect from the state's fourth-ranked team.
"Being able to play a team like Mill Valley as tight as we did may have given us a little too much confidence," Vincent said. "And, when you play a big game like that there's always a little letdown afterwards."
That letdown was readily apparent in the first half Monday, when the Bobcats looked listless and uninspired. Six minutes into the game Vincent could be heard yelling for his squad to "step it up," but it had little effect. The Pirates won most of the 50-50 balls and Basehor-Linwood's top scorers, Austin Knipp and Stephen Millison, both failed to convert on breakaway opportunities.
The Bobcats were fortunate to go into halftime 0-0, and Vincent let them have it when they gathered on the sideline.
"I don't know exactly what I said, but I yelled a lot," Vincent said. "I emphasized that we need to have a sense of urgency and preached that this is their season and each of them has to do their part to make it memorable."
Given what happened after halftime, Brother Vincent should preach on. The Bobcats came back a different team, flying to the ball and charging up field. Ryan Sirridge was suddenly himself again, a non-stop blur of speed and physicality. The junior midfielder weaved through the Piper defense and banged a point-blank shot off the keeper less than a minute into the half, earning the Bobcats a corner kick.
Justin Gripka took the corner perfectly, lofting it into the danger area where Knipp finished with a header for his 18th goal of the season. Four minutes later Gripka made a similarly spectacular pass on a free kick and Mitch Mallon came all the way from his defensive position to bury it with a diving header.
The second half had barely gotten underway and the Bobcats were rolling, up 2-0. But, just as in the Mill Valley game, the lead didn't last. One minute after Mallon's goal, Piper forward Austin Bond got free in the box for an easy score. A minute after that, the 6-foot-4 Bond found the equalizer on a header from close range.
Bond's ball skills and shooting ability were nothing to write home about, but, as the reigning Kaw Valley League player of the year in basketball, his height and athleticism made him a tough match-up. Still, Vincent said his defense should have done a better job on him.
"The whole team needs to step up and play better defense," Vincent said. "But our last line is our defenders and they need to tighten up. They have moments of brilliance and then they have letdowns."
With the game 2-2, and threatening to become a horrific rerun of the Mill Valley contest, defensive leader Sam Seaman took matters into his own hands. The junior sweeper stole the ball deep in BLHS territory and then carried it forward himself, weaving through a number of defenders until he was well past midfield. Then he rolled a perfect pass through a seam to Knipp, who raced ahead of the defense. Piper's sweeper desperately kicked at his legs from behind and Knipp stumbled briefly, but regained his footing and buried the ball.
"I noticed that the mids were behind me," Seaman said. "I was just hoping Austin was up there, I didn't really even see him until after I'd sent it to him. Luckily, he did his thing."
Knipp's 19th goal briefly gave the Bobcats the lead, but again, it didn't last. In the 68th minute Piper played a long ball ahead and BLHS goalie Matt Murrell raced off his line to try and clear it. Murrell had made a number of key plays earlier in the game doing just that, but this time he and a Piper forward got to the ball at the same time. Murrell deflected it, but not far enough, and Piper was able to roll the rebound into an open net.
The Bobcats then misfired on a number of opportunities in the final minute and the contest went to overtime.
Nine minutes into the overtime Gripka put another corner into the box. Sophomore midfielder Bret DeRuse got a foot on the ball and Millison finished it off by heading it into the upper-right corner. As soon as Millison's game-winner found the net, Seaman collapsed in exhaustion at midfield.
"Being tied with golden goal puts a lot of pressure on the defense because if they score the game's over, and that gets to you," Seaman said. "Defenders hate close games."
That being the case, none of the BLHS defenders were particularly fond of Monday's game. Some of the Bobcats might not have expected such a battle from Piper, though Seaman said they should have.
"Piper's always good," he said. "I was ready for that, but I think some people weren't."
The Bobcats took their 7-2 record to Tonganoxie on Wednesday, but results weren't available at press time.
Their next game is a showdown with the Braves at Bonner Springs on Monday. The varsity game is scheduled for 6 p.m.