Murphy keeps its crown in likely title showdown with Falcons

The second meeting of the Cascade Conference’s top two boys soccer teams went much like the first: physical, tense, and a one-goal advantage for Archbishop Murphy over South Whidbey.

Playing for a shot at winning the league title, South Whidbey scored first but didn’t score last as Archbishop Murphy likely secured its conference title 3-2 on Tuesday.

“It stung. We had it there at the beginning,” said Falcon senior Andy Zisette. “Then a couple of defensive errors and a couple big slip-ups. No blame placed, but those hurt us.”

For a brief moment, South Whidbey (7-3-0 Cascade Conference, 9-3-0 overall) led. The Falcons struck first on a header by senior Jeff Meier on an assist from junior Lucas Leiberman in the fourth minute.

Celebration quickly soured for the rowdy South Whidbey fans who made the aluminum grandstand at Waterman’s Field boom with each stomp that reverberated across the pitch.

“We were trying a new formation … We try to get as many numbers up as possible,” Meier said of the Falcons’ early success on offense.

Striding toward an undefeated season, Archbishop Murphy answered in the next minute with a goal by Jensen Crisler.

Another 60 seconds and the Wildcats (10-0-0 conference, 11-0-1 overall) jumped ahead with a second goal, this one by Gabe Astone.

South Whidbey regained momentum, but failed to score the rest of the first half. As the half came to a close, the Falcons pressed and had a look at the goal with senior striker Kai da Rosa in the box, but his shot sailed high and wide.

Through a consistent wind and steady rain, both teams gave as good as they got when it came to bumping, slide tackling and fouls. No cards were issued in the contest.

Out of the break, South Whidbey countered a quick shot with a pair of their own by senior Kameron Donohoe. His first was a slow roller that Wildcat sophomore Ryan Henderson scooped up and the other was deflected by junior midfielder Brady Henderson.

After the Wildcats took a wide shot on Falcon goalie Charley Stelling, South Whidbey fought to keep the ball on Archbishop Murphy’s half of the field. The strategy and number of offensive players paid off as Falcon senior Andy Zisette stole a quick reset by the Wildcat defense. Catching them off guard, he beat one defender and fired off a shot, as he was tackled, that sailed by the Wildcat goalie to tie the score in the 64th minute.

“It was a deflection from a blocked tackle that just popped out to me. There was only one defender in between me and the goal. I kicked it around him and took that shot.”

A Falcon defensive lapse on a high bounce led to Astone booting in the go-ahead goal in the 74th minute.

South Whidbey tried to rebound, but Archbishop Murphy’s passing let the Wildcats control the ball and eat away at the remaining minutes.

“I always have fun playing good teams … In a game this close, it’s fun until you lose,” Meier said.

South Whidbey faced perhaps its most daunting league opponent, in terms of postseason implication, in King’s (8-2-0 conference, 9-3-0 overall) on Friday in Shoreline. The Falcons won the previous meeting 2-0, but Meier and Zisette said the Knights were on spring break and were without some players. They expected the next meeting to be a more difficult match.

Whichever team wins will likely secure the top 1A seed from the Cascade Conference in the 1A District 1 tournament, a far easier path to the regional and state tournaments.

Losing to Archbishop Murphy in both games pushed South Whidbey out of contention for the conference championship.

“We needed to just get near the top … Now we’re out of reach,” Zisette said.