SNOHOMISH — It was a showdown of the top two Western Conference 4A soccer teams, so it figured to be a close, hard-fought and physical match.
It was indeed all of that, and the difference on the scoreboard was a well-executed Snohomish free kick into the goal box midway through the first half, setting up the game’s only goal. Defensively the Panthers never flinched the rest of the way, and the result was a 1-0 victory over Kamiak Wednesday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
It was, said Snohomish coach Dan Pingrey, “a tough match. (The Knights) are a good team. They’re well organized, (with) a good coach and they make it difficult.
“We’ll see them again,” he predicted, looking ahead to the district tournament.
“It was a decent game,” Kamiak coach Kosta Pitharoulis said. “A little ugly at times. And I would’ve like to see us get a few more (scoring) opportunities. … But hopefully we’ll get to see them a third time (at the district tournament).”
The two teams came into the match tied atop the Wesco standings. Both teams have one league game remaining, and the Panthers, who clinched at least a share of the title, need either a win or a tie at Cascade on Wednesday night, or a Kamiak loss at home against Mount Vernon the same night, to wrap up the league championship.
Snohomish got its goal just past the midpoint of the first half. Gus Baxter sent a left-footed free kick into the box and teammate Kristian Barney was there to head the ball cleanly into the right side of the net.
It was, Pingrey said, “a good goal on our part.”
Barney began the season playing right back for the Panthers, but when the team hit a recent lull — a three-game stretch with a tie and two losses — Pingrey switched his talented senior to striker. The move has paid off handsomely with Barney getting goals in each of his last four games.
During the team’s recent struggles, “you try not to overreact as a coach,” Pingrey said. “But you also have to take an honest look at where you are, and some of our combinations just weren’t working.
“Kristian’s been fantastic as far as his transition up front. It’s been a lot of fun to see him blossom. He’s a big, strong, athletic kid, he’s technically very sound, and now he’s getting a chance to use that up front.”
For the Knights, meanwhile, the goal was one of their few defensive lapses. Or as Pitharoulis put it, “On that free kick we just weren’t as organized as we’d hoped.”
Still, the Knights competed gamely to the end with chances to get the tying goal. And that determined effort maybe had something to do with a disappointing showing in a loss to Jackson on Friday.
“We didn’t really battle against Jackson,” Pitharoulis said. “We kind of gave one away, and I think that was fresh in their minds.”
Win or lose on Wednesday, both teams will soon be preparing for the district tournament. And for Snohomish, that means another step in its bid to defend its Class 4A state championship.
“We’ve got a good business sense about us as far as how we’re approaching it,” Pingrey said. “It’s very rare, especially in the last 10 years, that anybody’s (won) two in a row … but they want it bad. We know how difficult it us, but they’ve got a goal for themselves.”
At Snohomish H.S.
Kamiak 0 0 _ 0
Snohomish 1 0 _ 0
Goals: Snohomish — Kristian Barney. Goalkeepers: Kamiak — Tristan Bratvold; Snohomish_Alex Fairhurst, Cameron Beardsley.