It took McPherson High’s one-senior soccer team a half to get over its stage fright.
The youthful Bullpups trailed upset-minded and fellow youngsters Winfield 1-0 here Tuesday night and doubts of an early exit from Class 4-1A postseason play had to be creeping into their mind.
But once Andric McGill scored 9 minutes into the second half to tie the game, it was as if the team could exhale for the first time all night. MHS confidently pounded the goal relentlessly the rest of the way before Kento Aizawa finally punched through the decider with 4:41 to go and the Bullpups held on for a 2-1 victory in the South Central Regional semifinals.
The Bullpups now go to Berean Academy of Elbing to take on the Warriors in the 4 p.m. finals on Thursday. The winner advances to the state’s Elite Eight.
The Vikings, with just two seniors of their own, shocked MHS just over 5 minutes into the game when Wade Baker sped down the right side and sent a rocket to the left-corner of the net that the Bullpups’ Sam Minnick had no chance on for a 1-0 lead.
“First half we looked scared to death,” said MHS coach Chris Adrian, whose team is now 10-5-2. “We looked like the moment was too big for us and it’s a first-round game. We can’t let nerves get the best of us. And I knew that would be part of the game with that many players playing their first postseason game. It’s a different game.”
The Vikings had lost to the Bullpups 3-1 on Sept. 16, but Adrian warned his team they would be light-years better. And they were, as their aggressive play had the Bullpups in hesitation mode early.
“It’s always hard to beat a team twice,” Adrian said. “Unfortunately when we played them the first time, we dominated them. It didn’t show on the score, but we should have scored more. We stressed all week that it’s not going to be the same team. That was (nearly) two months ago that we played them. And we came out thinking “we’re just going to roll over them.’ And they made some adjustments from the first time we played them. They’re a much-better team than when we played them two months ago, that’s for sure. They looked really good. When they got that early goal, I was curious if they would sit back and just try to defend, but they kept playing and we kept struggling.”
McGill’s goal came off a Jose Arriola assist. The Bullpups continued to press the action until finally Aizawa nailed a follow shot after Ethan VanDorn had clanked the cross bar. It was only his second goal of the year, the first since the opening game of the season.
“Kento’s deserved a goal for so long,” Adrian said. “But the ball he hit across to Ethan was with his left (off) foot, that’s something we’ve been working with him on all year. As he’s getting ready to hit it, I was like ‘use your left, use your left, use your left... he hits a beautiful ball to Ethan and (he) hits it off the post, and then Kento follows it in and gets his reward. It couldn’t have come to a more deserving player... he’s been playing great for us the last three games.”
Berean, which cruised past Circle 9-2 on Tuesday, is 11-6 and has won six of its last seven games.
“They’re definitely up this year,” Adrian said. “They’ve got a couple of attackers on their team that can really put the ball in the net.”