In seventh-straight district final Thursday (Oct. 19), 2017 Hornets avenge 2016 finals loss to Kirksville with suffocating defense, tally in 57th minute
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
CAMERON, Mo. — With this season’s two previous matches between the teams ending in shutouts – one by each team, goals figured to be at a premium when the second-seeded Chillicothe High School Hornets and top-seeded Kirksville Tigers met Thursday in the Class 2 District 15 Tournament championship contest.
They were – or, more precisely, it was.
Each team had only a couple of true scoring chances and the Hornets – and junior Brennan Munson – converted one of theirs to deliver CHS a 1-0 triumph and, in its seventh-consecutive appearance in the district finals, its second-ever district crown to go with the one the 2014 squad captured.
Munson’s rising, left-footed blast from 20 yards out directly in front of the KHS net rippled the cords at 56:56 and CHS effectively protected the slim margin the final 23:04 to qualify for state play next week.
" An incredible match played by two really good teams,” Tim Cunningham, Chillicothe head coach, reflected. “Our defense played as well as they have all season, limiting Kirksville to only two shots on goal.
“Our attack was steady all night and Brennan was able to take advantage of one of our chances to score the game-winning goal.”
As District 15 champions, the Hornets (12-9-1) will host the District 16 champion – Maryville or Kansas City: St. Pius X – next Tuesday, Oct. 24 , in the first round of the 16-teams state tournament. The foe will be determined Saturday when those two meet in their district final.
Match time on Tuesday will be announced later, but is likely to be 5 or 6 p.m.
Thursday’s Chillicothe-Kirksville match saw both teams have difficulty finding open space within 30 yards of their opponent’s net, the result being each side directing two shots on net over the course of the 80 minutes.
Through the first 60-plus minutes, the best scoring chance had belonged to Kirksville in the second half. Remi Ndiang’s riser from about 12 yards out clear CHS goalkeeper Drew Toedebusch, but hit the top side of the crossbar and bounced away.
Chillicothe’s best chance in that stretch was actually very similar to the one Munson later converted, but midfielder Gavin Seeley’s right-footed drive from a bit farther out, after the ball popped into the open off a battle in the KHS penalty area, went wide of the right goalpost.
So it was, some minutes later, that the match still was 0-0 when the ball was played deep down the offensive left side of the pitch by Chillicothe and, in a battle for possession, was sent beyond the sideline by a Kirksville player. That gave the Hornets possession for a throw-in about 5-8 yards from the goal line.
Because of the proximity to the goal line, one option for the throw-in was to fling it hard and high toward the goalmouth area, similar to a corner kick. With that in mind, Chillicothe opted to have senior forward Bryce Hague, their most-dangerous and top scorer, but not very tall, in-bound the ball and, among others, 6’2” outside midfielder Jacob Anderson line up among a couple of teammates and multiple Kirksville defenders in front of the goal.
As Hague let fly with the throw-in, hoping to find the head of a leaping Anderson or another Hornet, three of Kirksville’s players tracked the ball and jumped to try to get a head on it, as well.
One did, but the result was less than desirable.
As a half-dozen or more players converged on where the throw-in was descending, when the carom off a Tiger’s head sent the ball bouncing away upfield, away from the goal, the only player in the vicinity was Munson, who is among Chillicothe’s leading setup men this season with eight assists, but had not been able to score a goal himself from his primarily outside midfielder’s spot.
Reacting to the bouncing ball coming his way, but to his left, Munson strode to it and, with time and space, calmly settled it with his left foot. Then, as a couple of KHS players charged him, he stepped forward with his right leg and nailed the ball squarely with his left foot 20 yards out from the KHS net.
The elevating drive zipped past the approaching defenders and, with goalkeeper Silas Gebhardt barely off his line and only about five yards inside the right goalpost, zoomed goalward, still rising.
Probably partially screened, Gebhardt reacted to his right just a heartbeat too late as Munson’s shot was already going past him, perfectly placed in the top right corner of the goal. With a couple of ticks over 23 minutes left in regulation time, the match had a goal at last and it belonged to the Hornets.
On the same pitch two years before, a perhaps-too-defensive posture after Chillicothe had gained a 1-0 lead in the early minutes of the second half of a district-title match proved costly.
Maryville pressed repeatedly as CHS seemed to back off from pressing for any kind of offensive rush and finally scored on a goalmouth redirection of a long direct free kick after a disputed foul call inside the final 10 minutes, sending the match to overtime, where Maryville won it after about eight minutes.
With Munson’s goal on the Dave Goodwin Field scoreboard Thursday, with several current CHS juniors and seniors who played in or were on the bench that day at Cameron in 2015, the question was whether the Hornets would fall into the same trap of passivity that ultimately caught up to them then.
Whether by coaches’ instruction or the players’ memory-driven own initiative, they did not.
In fact, Kirksville – understandably, with only about 20 minutes available to tie it – showed some initial desperation in the aftermath of the goal, getting away from its more-passing and dribbling-oriented offensive approach which had put the Hornets on their heels more than a few times in the first 65 minutes.
Instead, it began attempting some longer kicks from its own end of the field and near midfield, hoping they might spring a teammate free or lead to a CHS miscue. That approach allowed the Hornets to read and react to the ball and gain control of it or clear it back upfield.
After a spell like that, Kirksville seemed to get a step slower, allowing Chillicothe to win more 50-50 balls and not only to repel most KHS attempts at attacking rather easily, but to establish ball possession in the midfield area and counterattack. Tnat forced the Tigers to repeatedly have to either backtrack before eventually gaining control deep in its own end or to play the ball out of bounds to slow a CHS advance.
By continuing to try to carry the ball forward and put pressure on the KHS midfielders and backs, the Hornets both drained valuable minutes off the clock without the Tigers being in any position to threaten to tie the match.
Once Chillicothe took the lead, in fact, Kirksville managed only one dangerous offensive chance and that one – a left-footed shot from hard-shooting Evan McLain from about 20-25 yards away – didn’t result in a shot on goal as, with a teammate and two Hornets between him and the net, he pulled it wide of the left goalpost by several yards.
Even in Kirksville’s desperation in the last couple of minutes, the Hornets marked well and kept the ball far away from any dangerous area in its defensive third of the pitch.
When the last second disappeared from the clock and the Chillicothe celebration began, the Hornets had posted a third-straight shutout win, including both matches in the district tourney, and had avenged the 3-1 loss it had suffered to Kirksville in the 2016 district final at Chillicothe.
“I am so proud of how hard the guys played tonight and have all season,” Cunningham saluted, only too aware that the virtually same group of players had finished a hard-luck 2016 season which featured several overtime losses, with a 5-15-1 mark.
“Such an outstanding group of young men that represents our school and city in a way that we can all be proud of."
Statistically, according to CHS team support staff, Toedebusch’s eighth whitewash of 2017 required him to save only two shots. At the other end, sophomore Gebhardt made one save and allowed the deciding goal on the other Chillicothe on-net drive.
Kirksville had a 6-3 advantage in corner kicks with most of those nine occurring in the first half.
It deserves noting that Kirksville amassed a solid 13-10 record for its just-completed season and came within a win of advancing to state play again while playing without its top, would-be returning player.
Seger Nelson had two of the Tigers’ three goals in last year’s district-title win over the Hornets and scored seven goals in two matches in the 2016 district tourney, but sustained a serious knee injury last spring, according to Cunningham. That prevented him from playing soccer this fall, costing Kirksville very significant firepower.
Chillicothe also was without an oft-used, if less-critical, player itself this postseason. Sophomore C.J. Pfaff, an oft-used reserve forward/midfielder who has a goal and an assist this year, has been out of action the past several weeks with an injury. He is not expected to return this season.