Thanks to regular rotation, ice-cold towels, a fingertip save and three goals, the South Whidbey boys soccer team is moving on in the state 1A tournament.
South Whidbey withstood 85-degree heat and the scorching attack of the Brewster Bears for a 3-2 win in the first round of the tournament Tuesday. The Falcons host the Quincy Jackrabbits at 3 p.m. May 24. That match, like all of the state tournament games, will be a loser-out contest.
Brewster was seeded higher than South Whidbey in the bracket because it won its district title, while South Whidbey finished as the runner-up in District 1. The Bears played fast, had crisp passes that moved from side to side of their 128-by-72-yard field — a wide, long soccer pitch — that forced the Falcon defenders to chase the ball and log a lot of yards on their cleats.
“Talk about 80 minutes of hell, our guys ran so hard,” said Falcon co-head coach Joel Gerlach. “We ended up rotating our outside [midfielders] every 10 minutes.”
Through the first five minutes, having watched the way Brewster possessed, passed and moved, South Whidbey’s coaches thought they were in trouble. Then Falcon junior striker Kai da Rosa ripped a shot past the Bears’ goalie to take a 1-0 lead, and South Whidbey never trailed afterward.
“That was the boost we needed because if they scored before us, we would’ve been heartbroken,” da Rosa said.
But Brewster put plenty of pressure on South Whidbey, twice tying the score within 10 minutes of the first two Falcon goals.
Jaidin Jones, a Falcon senior forward, scored South Whidbey’s second goal for a 2-1 lead at the halftime break. Falcon junior Oliver Saunsaucie sent a long pass over Jones about 30 yards away from the Bears’ goal. A Bear defender tried to head it on a high bounce, but not before Jones knocked it toward the goal, beat the goalie and launched the ball barely inside the post.
“It was a real shot,” said Jones, who remembered quickly celebrating before realizing more than 40 minutes remained in regulation play.
“The game wasn’t even close to being over,” he added.
After halftime, Brewster knotted the score with its second goal. The back-and-forth nature of the game had South Whidbey’s other head coach, Emerson “Skip” Robbins, anxious.
“Any coach who doesn’t get nervous isn’t invested,” he said. “Either they don’t have blood in their veins or they aren’t invested.”
But the Falcons rose to the needs of the occasion. Lucas Leiberman, a sophomore, lofted a shot over the Bear goalie for the go-ahead goal with about 20 minutes left in the match. Late in the game, Falcon goalie Charley Stelling made a fingertip save that made the ball hit the post and bounce out, preserving South Whidbey’s lead.
South Whidbey’s defense, despite allowing two goals, played one of its best games, according to Emerson. He noted that Brewster’s striker and one of its midfielders were two of the most talented players he saw this season, but the Falcons were able to adjust to defending them.
“They’d beat one of our guys and then another one of our guys would come up,” Emerson said. “Sometimes, they’d beat four of our defenders, but another guy would be there.”
On Saturday, the Falcons play another team from Eastern Washington: Quincy. South Whidbey is technically the homefield host, though the game will be played at Goddard Stadium at Mariner High School in Everett. The game is being played there because District 1 rules dictate playoff games must be held at artificial turf fields, Whidbey’s Waterman’s Field is grass.