Wildcats erase shot at top playoff spot

Falcon sophomore Lucas Leiberman fends off Wildcat senior defender James Bettag for the ball on a high bounce May 2 at Archbishop Murphy.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Falcon sophomore Lucas Leiberman fends off Wildcat senior defender James Bettag for the ball on a high bounce May 2 at Archbishop Murphy.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Losing 2-0 to Archbishop Murphy on May 2 was more than just another loss to the Cascade Conference’s top team for South Whidbey boys soccer.

It eliminated the Falcons from holding the league’s top seed in the 1A District 1 tournament and hosting at least one playoff game at Waterman’s Field. Archbishop Murphy dominated the ball and kept South Whidbey on its heels nearly all 80 minutes of play as the Wildcats took 20 shots — a major departure from the first match this season, a 1-0 Wildcat victory with double-digit shots from the Falcons.

“In the first game, we knew we really wanted to beat them …,” said Falcon junior Bryce Auburn. “This one, we were playing for our lives. We were a trapped animal.”

Kai da Rosa, South Whidbey’s most dangerous animal, remained caged as the Falcons struggled to possess and stop the ball at midfield. The Falcon striker ended with three shots on goal, each one coming after lots of moves to get free of a cadre of Wildcat defenders.

“They came out really emotional on their senior night,” said Falcon senior Trey Adams, a co-captain. “Some of these guys played their entire career on varsity.”

From the opening possession, the Wildcats caught the Falcons reeling back. Archbishop Murphy recorded nine shots on goal before South Whidbey got its first, a rocket by da Rosa that sailed wide at the end of the first half.

The Wildcats responded with an attack that resulted in a corner kick by Christian Thode. His cross was headed in, unchallenged, by Ben Adams for the first goal of the match.

“That first goal, I hate to admit it, that was my man,” said Adams, of the player he was charged with guarding.

Out of the goal, South Whidbey’s players were in disarray, yelling at one another to stay on their assigned player in the box. That attitude seemed to stick with them in the halftime break huddle.

Starting with possession in the second half, South Whidbey quickly lost the ball. Wasting little time, the Wildcats pounced.

Thode strode toward Falcon keeper Charley Stelling, who stepped out of the goal to challenge for the ball on a long pass. Thode knocked it past Stelling for an open-goal score.

If the match were played in a dome, there might have been an actual pressure change as all the air seemed to leave the Falcons.

“We still came into the second half pretty confident,” Adams said. “But after they scored that second goal, without the consent of our coaches, we switched [our defense].”

“We gave it all we had that first half,” he added. “Getting down, especially that second goal, really, really affected us.”

South Whidbey’s offense never found much of a footing near Archbishop Murphy’s goal. Two of da Rosa’s — and the entire South Whidbey team’s — shots on goal came in the final 15 minutes.

The loss sealed South Whidbey’s playoff position. King’s won a decisive match against Cedarcrest to overtake South Whidbey in the league standings, then won the regular-season finale against Coupeville, the third-seeded 1A team, on Monday. No matter their position, the Falcons believed they were rolling into the playoffs performing exceptionally.

“We still fully believe the best part of our season is yet to come,” Adams said.

After a 7-0 rout of Granite Falls on May 5, it would be hard to argue with Adams’ assessment. In the senior night for the Falcons, da Rosa, Jaidin Jones and Lucas Leiberman each scored two goals, with the seventh score by Oliver Saunsaucie. Senior James Itaya assisted on three goals, while da Rosa, Saunsaucie and Calvin Shimada each had an assist.

The 1A District 1 tournament begins Wednesday, May 7, at the higher-ranked team’s home field. The second round matches are May 9, with the tri-district qualifying round held May 10 at King’s High School in Shoreline.


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