By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
PUYALLUP — A year ago the Snohomish boys soccer team tripped at this very hurdle.
This time the Panthers kept their feet.
Snohomish erased the sting from last year’s semifinal loss by defeating the Kentwood Conquerors 2-0 Friday night in the semifinals of the 4A state tournament at Sparks Stadium.
Gus Baxter and Tanner Corrie scored goals as the Panthers will play today for the third state title in school history.
“This is awesome,” Snohomish coach Dan Pingrey said. “(The Conquerors) were a tough, physical team. At times we played very well, and at times we battled like we had to battle, which was great. As I’ve said before this team has learned to grind, and they did.”
Snohomish (19-2) will play Ferris in the championship game at 5 p.m. today at Sparks Stadium. Ferris beat Skyview 3-2 in the other semifinal.
Kentwood (15-3-3) faces Skyview at noon today for third place.
A year ago Snohomish rolled into the semifinals, only to be derailed by a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Thomas Jefferson. The Panthers ended up losing the third-place game to Roosevelt to finish in fourth place — leaving a bitter taste in their mouths.
But this time Snohomish took full advantage of their few scoring opportunities, then used a smothering defensive effort to prevent the Conquerors from getting any good looks.
“This feels so good,” Baxter said. “I didn’t think it would feel this good, it’s so fun. Last year we just couldn’t do it, we had a lot of trouble. But I could feel it in our team. The tempo during play was much quicker, we just wanted it so much more than last year, it was awesome.”
There was only one true scoring chance in the first half, but it fell to Snohomish and the Panthers took advantage to take a 1-0 lead.
Snohomish’s Brennan Judy was given a shoulder charge just outside the Kentwood penalty box, giving the Panthers a free kick in a dangerous area. The right-footed Eric Jones went for the kick, but ran over the ball to leave it for the left-footed Baxter, and Baxter curled his shot around the Kentwood wall and into the left corner, putting Snohomish on the scoreboard in the 21st minute.
“Uriel (Herrera) always has this look on his face that’s pure determination, and I saw it on his face,” Baxter said. “I looked at him and said, ‘Uriel, do you trust me?’ He said, ‘Yep.’ That’s when I knew I was going to hit it. The wall was really far far post, so I had to curl it a lot and it got through.”
Snohomish received another free kick at the edge of the penalty box early in the second half. Judy was again on the receiving end of a foul which may have been in the box, but was judged to have taken place right at the edge. This time Herrera took the kick and it drifted beyond the far post. Herrera had another chance moments later as he jinked his way past two defenders and unleashed a low drive from 25 yeards out, but again it whistled just wide.
Kentwood nearly tied it in the 74th minute. The Conquerors had a free kick from midfield that was lifted into the Snohomish penalty box. The ball dropped to the ground, and in the ensuing melee it fell to a Kentwood player’s foot, but his shot was deflected wide by the Snohomish defense. It was the best scoring chance the Conquerors had the entire game.
Then with three minutes remaining Corrie put it away. A mis-kick by a Kentwood defender presented Corrie with a clean breakaway. He moved the ball onto his right foot and powered a shot into the upper-right corner to ensure a place in the finals for the Panthers.
Pingrey had good things to say about his defense afterward.
“We played physical, we played hard,” Pingrey said. “(Central defender Blake) Crutchfield has been sick, he fought through it and gave us a half hour in the beginning, sat, then went in and gave us the last 15 minutes. That’s all we could ask for, as sick as he was. Eric (Jones) went back there and did a great job, and the rest of them played very well.
“I’m proud of them, but now we have another job to do tomorrow.”
At Sparks Stadium
Goals—Gus Baxter (S), Tanner Corrie (S). Goalkeepers—Snohomish: Ryan Peters. Kentwood: Admir Kucalovic. Records—Snohomish 19-2. Kentwood 15-3-3.