Chillicothe (Mo.) HS Soccer Hornets Hit Late Roadblock in State-Title Quest
Historic CHS season ends with late-goal, 1-0 state-quarterfinals defeat at Harrisonville Saturday
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
HARRISONVILLE, Mo. — For a second-straight Saturday, a fall 2021 Chillicothe High School fall sport’s phenomenal season concluded shy of its ultimate target, but not through any fault of the CHS squads involved.
Following the 3-2 state-championship-game loss that wrapped up the softball Lady Hornets’ sensational season seven days before, the soccer Hornets – having advanced farther along the postseason path than either the boys’ or girls’ program ever had before – played a very strong, virtually-error-free match at Harrisonville Saturday afternoon, but it was not quite enough to produce the desired result.
Just inside the final 10 minutes of scheduled time in their 80-minutes Class 2 state tournament quarterfinals clash, the host Wildcats executed a sterling play to produce what proved to be the only scoring of the match, defeating CHS 1-0.
“We tried to make everything tough on them, just like they were making things tough on us,” Tim Cunningham, his 11th season in charge having just ended, shared in a post-match chat at the game site with the C-T.
Of Harrisonville’s coming out on top, he verbally tipped his cap: “They earned it.”
The loss prevented the Hornets from advancing to what would have been their first-ever appearance in the soccer state semifinals and finals.
Instead, Chillicothe, defeated for the first time in just over two months and after 18 triumphs in a row, bows out at 20-4, the most wins in a season in the program’s 15-seasons history. Multiple individual records also were bettered this fall.
“They’re kind of setting the standard for what Chillicothe soccer is,” Cunningham said he stressed to the team in his post-game comments to them.
From a seemingly-innocuous situation just on the Harrisonville offensive side of midfield at Harrisonville Memorial Stadium, a dribbling Wildcats sophomore Zane Masden made a quick, slick reverse pivot back toward the center of the artificial-turf pitch, momentarily slipping the shadow of a hounding Hornets defender.
Whether by design or instinctive reaction, Masden used the moment of time and the small gap of space his turnaround provided to send a low, but long, line-drive pass ahead toward the Chillicothe penalty are where teammate Tucker Larson, a junior forwarded seemingly was bracketed on each side by backs Logan Distler and Josh Adams with sweeper back Nate King behind them and, beyond them, senior goalkeeper Jaxon Albertson.
As the ball rose to perhaps 10 feet off the ground as it sailed toward and then beyond that group of players, Masden’s aiming accuracy had the ball zip right over Larson’s head and into the CHS penalty area with the single Harrisonville player and three Chillicothe backs in hot pursuit.
Larson won the chase to the ball just ahead of the three backs with Albertson and the CHS goal perhaps 12-15 yards away to his left. Deftly and subtly eluding the effort of the first back to try to get the ball from him, Larson, like Masden, used that instant of space and time to cut loose a right-footed shot attempt.
Aiming and hitting it well despite the rush, the Harrisonville forward pulled a hard, low shot across the goal front, its velocity fast enough to prevent ’keeper Albertson – out a few yards from his line and not far from the left (short-side) goalpost – from being able to intersect its path with a desperate dive to his right and its direction allowing it to zip across the goal line and into the net with about 6-8 yards to spare inside the right post.
After 71:48 of defense-owned play, the host Wildcats had broken through, leaving the Hornets only 8:11 to try to respond.
Larson is “a really special player,” Cunningham praised. “… Our guys did an incredible job marking him and making things tough on him most of the match.”
Playing with increasingly-aggressive offensive desperation with each passing second, Chillicothe generated a few reasonable opportunities for the tying goal against the very solid and well-coordinated HHS backline.
After one about 10 minutes earlier had resulted in the Hornets’ best scoring chance of the day when leading scorer Chace Corbin managed to get his head on it right in front of goalkeeper sophomore Travis Eddleman, only to have the ball carom harmlessly farther from the goal, a direct free kick by Gabe Hansen from about 25 yards out with 3-1/2 minutes left was pushed over the goal by the wind at his back.
Then, with about two minutes to go, for the only time in the match, the Hornets gained a corner-kick opportunity, but again the wind pushed Drake Cosgrove’s boot from the offensive right side beyond the end line and out of play.
“We really thought, coming into the match, that we were going to have to be effective on our set pieces, but we didn’t get a corner (kick)” until the last 2-1/2 minutes, Cunningham noted. “That says a lot about their defense, because – especially in the second half – we put some pressure on them, but their defense stood tall and was able to keep (all the play) in front of them.”
Prior to Lawson’s goal, both squads had applied pressure to the opponent’s defense, but been rewarded with only intermittent shots that made it through to the respective goalkeepers.
“Everything was going to have to be earned today; nothing was going to be given. There was nothing that was going to be easy about today on either side,” Cunningham capsulized.
Of those that did, Albertson had to handle the most and toughest, including a diving stop to his right in the 27th minute and a good stop on a low, 20-yards shot after the Hornets’ backfield briefly misplayed a long, high pass by Harrisonville 11 minutes into the second half.
“Our defense has been so locked in for months now, it seems like, and it played really good again today against a pretty high-powered team,” lauded the CHS head coach.
“Our ‘layering’ was really good again today,” he detailed. “… They’ve gotten better every week and they work really hard in practice to understand positioning and layering and making sure they’re covering for each other and today was just another really good example of that.
“Even the shot they made (for the lone goal), he beat one guy and another guy was stepping to him and he just made a great shot. It wasn’t like we were out of position.”
Playing against the wind in the opening half and focusing first on defensive integrity, Chillicothe did not get its first shot even in the direction of the goal – it went high and wide – until the match’s 31st minute.
“We knew it was going to be physical and our guys matched that part of the game, as well,” Cunningham saluted his squad. “… It was just a tough match.”
Taking note of Harrisonville’s 2017 trip to the state semifinals and finals and its four 20-wins seasons in the past decade, the Chillicothe coach observed about his own squad’s taking the game into the final 10 minutes level at 0-0, “They’ve got a really good team that’s battle-tested and has played in a lot of games like this one.”
“(HHS coach Dan Coleman has) a great program going and the fact that we competed with them and were right there with them I think says a lot about our program and where we’re at, how far we’ve come.”
Briefly simultaneously reflecting on both the day, which included support in the stands from an estimated 100 CHS supporters, and the now-complete season, Cunningham offered an emotional postscript.
“An incredible effort by our guys and it’s just been an incredible season and that’s what makes this tough, is that it’s over now,” he commented. “Just a great ride. And I appreciate everybody that drove the two hours here to watch us. Hopefully we made Chillicothe proud.”