Wednesday night it took the Panthers a while to figure out how to adjust, and although they eventually did, by then it was too late.
Snohomish fell into a two-goal hole and couldn't quite claw out, and the Panthers' season came to an end with a 2-1 loss to the Bellarmine Prep Lions in the first round of the 4A state playoffs.
Snohomish came into the game with no losses and just one tie, and the Panthers were ranked sixth in the nation in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll. Panthers coach Dan Pingrey didn't think his team had been behind once all season.
But goals from Cooper Doxon and Kurtis Pederson put Snohomish down 2-0 early in the second half. The Panthers mounted a furious comeback, with Juan Machuca-Garin pulling Snohomish back within one with 10 minutes remaining. However, despite a steady stream of threatening balls into the Lions penalty box, the Panthers were unable to find the tying goal.
“We talked about not giving up,” Pingrey said. “We kept getting stronger and stronger, but it wasn't quite there.
“The first half we played a little scared, which is unfortunate,” Pingrey added. “I think if we had matched up a little better and not been afraid, the game would have changed. But our players stepped up and went for it, I'm proud of them, we just came up a little short.”
Bellarmine Prep (14-1-2) advanced to face Puyallup in Saturday's quarterfinals. Snohomish finished its season 16-1-1.
The Lions were a brutal first-round draw for the Panthers. Bellarmine Prep is ranked 19th nationally in the NSCAA poll, and the Lions feature a big, strong, physical team. Bellarmine used those physical attributes to outmuscle the Panthers while controlling the first half. When Pederson made it 2-0 nine minutes into the second half, it seemed there was no way back for Snohomish.
“I think it was important to get the first goal, and the boys were very controlled,” Bellarmine Prep coach Joe Waters said. “They did a fantastic job in the first half. We set out to play the way we wanted to play and try to impose our style on them, and we managed to do that, and they got pretty frustrated.”
However the Panthers, who had a potential goal late in the first half disallowed by a mysterious offsides call, began playing desperate after falling behind by two, and Snohomish dominated the game's final 30 minutes. The game became an aerial battle, with Snohomish freshman midfielder Blake Crutchfield putting a steady stream of long throws into the Lions penalty box.
The Lions, with the hulking Doxon moved from forward to defense to add to an already towering back line, dealt with the threat until the 70th minute. That's when a long punt by Snohomish goalkeeper Brenden George was tracked down by Reilly Cross. Cross, under pressure, hit a spectacular bicycle cross to the far post, where Machuca-Garin forced it home to pull the Panthers within one.
Snohomish continued to press, and with 30 seconds remaining Bellarmine Prep defender Patrick Barr had to perform a flying header to knock Crutchfield's goal-bound free kick away.
“You do get a bit nervous because they're very good at (the long throws),” Waters said about Snohomish's late pressure. “But we have good size on our team and our boys are used to it. They know how to win headers and how to be involved in that. And I thought our goalkeeper Eric Bottjer was magnificent coming out and tidying things up when we needed him to.”
Bellarmine Prep controlled play from the start, thanks to its physical strength, and the Lions broke through in the 11th minute. The ball was played into space on the right for Michael Rector. Rector had time to line up his cross and he put it inch-perfect onto the head of Doxon, who powered it into the corner to give Bellarmine Prep a 1-0 lead.
But despite Bellarmine Prep's dominance, Snohomish thought it had equalized late in the first half. Crutchfield's long throw-in was knocked down in the penalty box right to the feet of John Magnus. Magnus's shot took a deflection and nestled into the corner of the net. However, the goal was disallowed by a offsides call.
Snohomish came out with more jump to star the second half, but it was Bellarmine Prep that found the net again. This time the ball was played over the top in front of Pederson steaming down the left.
Pederson let the ball bounce, then used a delicate touch with the outside of his right foot to guide it past George and into the far corner to make it 2-0.
At Veteran's Memorial Stadium
Goals—Cooper Doxon (BP), Kurtis Pederson (BP), Juan Machuca-Garin (S). Goalkeepers—Bellarmine Prep: Eric Bottjer. Snohomish: Brenden George. Records—Bellarmine Prep 14-1-2. Snohomish 16-1-1.
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