Tied with host KC: St. Pius X 1-1 at halftime, Hornets fall 8-1 to end season 11-10-1
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Despite multiple harrowing moments around their goal during the opening half of their Class 2 state tournament first-round (sectional) match against Kansas City’s St. Pius X Warriors Wednesday night, the District 15 champion Chillicothe High School soccer Hornets were in a position they’d gladly have accepted prior to the match’s beginning.
Thanks to senior Trent Norman’s fifth goal of the season at 17:39 of the match, multiple close-range saves by sophomore goalkeeper Jaxon Albertson, and scrappy – if not always textbook-perfect – defensive play, the Hornets were able to gather for consultations with ninth-year head coach Tim Cunningham and his assistants at halftime on even terms with their hosts at 1-1.
Given the huge advantage in scoring chances, time of possession, and territorial advantage SPX’s Warriors had produced in the opening 40 minutes, being level at halftime was very much a psychological victory for CHS. The longer it could stay tied or, if an opportunity arose, claim a second-half lead, experience suggested the greater the pressure would build on the Kansas City Catholic school’s team, perhaps causing cracks that might diminish their effectiveness or lead to an overanxious miscue that Chillicothe could use to score again.
To St. Pius X’s deserved credit and to the Hornets’ disappointment, that scenario never got a real chance to play out as the home team quickly resumed its dominance of play and eventually soared away to an 8-1 triumph.
“I really liked how we played the last 20 to 25 minutes of the first half,” Cunningham shared with the C-T after arriving back home. “I thought we were creating a few chances for our attack and winning our share of opportunities in the midfield.
“I thought that St. Pius would come out to start the second half with a lot of purpose and energy, and we would have weather the storm for the first 10 or 15 minutes. Unfortunately, we were not able to do that and they just overwhelmed us with their speed, athleticism, and skill.”
St. Pius X used the second half to establish immediate control and push the ball deep into the Chillicothe defensive end inside the first 30 seconds. Before Chillicothe even got the ball back to midfield – even with a clearing kick, the Warriors’ onslaught resulted in the tiebreaking goal from the offensive right side after only 2:15 had elapsed.
Given that Chillicothe had not scored more than once against the Warriors in their four most-recent meetings, being down 2-1 was not a comfortable place for the Hornets to be, even with nearly a full half yet to play.
With Norman’s first-half goal, off a long cross from the right side by Mason Baxter, having cashed in on one of less than five Chillicothe scoring opportunities in the first 40 minutes, the trend of play did not suggest the second half would find CHS generating any more – if that many – dangerous chances than that the rest of the way.
As it turned out, the Hornets had only one high-caliber look at the SPX net in the second half, it coming after the Warriors had added an insurance goal off a right-side corner kick at 48:48.
With the match’s 55th minute elapsing, Chillicothe chipped the ball behind the St. Pius X back line in a position where Baxter, owner of 26 goals on the year, could catch up to it first.
After nudging the ball ahead a couple of times on the run, the Hornet swung his right leg into the ball from 15 yards out just before a retreating Warrior could cut off his shooting angle. The low hard shot was blocked by the Warriors goalkeeper as he slid out only a few yards away from Baxter, but trickled behind him a couple of yards. As the Chillicothean braked and tried to dance past the netminder to get a foot on the rebound and either send it into the vacant goal or keep it alive for a subsequent second chance, the goalkeeper, from his knees, stretched out his body and extended his right arm to get his gloved hand on the top of the ball and pull it back to his body just before Baxter could reach it.
As fate – or St. Pius X’s skill – would have it, the goalkeeper’s subsequent punt back to midfield was played first by the Warriors, who quickly mounted another thrust toward the Chillicothe goal. Perhaps as little as 20 seconds after Baxter came with perhaps a foot or even inches of posting his team’s second goal and making it a 1-goal match again, the hosts capped their counterattack with a backbreaking fourth tally at 56:15.
While the Hornets soldiered on bravely, without being able to command the ball long enough and decisively enough to threaten to score even a second goal, everyone understood that the 3-goals difference would be more than enough to the Warriors to close out their victory and advance to the state quarterfinals this weekend.
As it turned out, with both teams starting to utilize reserves more liberally once the final 15 minutes started to drain off the clock, St. Pius X would double its output of the first 65 minutes in the last 12, one appearing to be sent into the Chillicothe coach inadvertently by one of the Hornets. The meaningless – except to the SPX reserve who scored it and probably his loved ones – final score entered the Chillicothe goal with exactly 1.1 second left, setting the final score at 8-1.
“We knew it was going to be a quick-paced game and Pius was going to get its chances,” summed up Cunningham, “but I think overall our guys really competed with them for the first 50 minutes.
“Once they got rolling, we had a difficult time matching their level of play.”
With the defeat – the program’s third in as many state-tournament matches in its history and all to St. Pius X, Chillicothe’s 2019 season concluded with an 11-10-1 record. That includes the Hornets going 6-1 in Midland Empire Conference action to share the conference championship with SPX, which suffered a league loss to St. Joseph: Bishop LeBlond before beating CHS 3-1 in their regular-season match at KC.
The conference co-championship was the first in Hornets’ soccer history, which dates back to 2007.
This year’s squad included a handful of seniors – Brendon Nelson, Noah Crowe, Hunter Rader, Kaleb Mullikin, and Norman.
Assuming he is healthy, Baxter would return with a chance to become the Hornets’ all-time leading goal scorer. He has 42 in his career, 13 shy of Steven Cooper’s team record.