With less than a minute remaining in their state soccer semifinal game the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears put southeast Alaska in the minds of Anchorage folks once again.
With time running out on the cold, wet pitch at Dimond High School, and a tie score on the board, junior Jackson Lehnhart played a long ball out of the Crimson Bears end through to classmate Stuart Thurston.
Thurston made a 50-60 yard run through the Dimond defense and got loose for a shot. As Thurston was about to strike, the Dimond center back took him down and out of bounds, giving the Crimson Bears a free kick.
Senior Johnny Joyce had just enough angle to strike a powerful shot high at the goal, which the Dimond keeper couldn’t handle.
“That one ended as shockingly as I have seen one end in a while,” JDHS coach Gary Lehnhart said. “It literally was in the last 30 seconds.”
JDHS will try to win its third straight state title against the Dimond Lynx today at 5:45 on Dimond’s pitch.
“Anyone who plays them, the problem is, you don’t know who to take away,” Lehnhart said. “They can beat you with a number of guys.”
The Crimson Bears have a number of guys themselves. Top to bottom the JDHS side showed West a solid defense that can lay a through pass to their attack.
The Crimson Bears scored the first goal of the game near the eight-minute mark. Senior Johnny Joyce put a nice location on a corner kick and junior Jackson Lehnhart settled the ball down. The ball caromed among players and Lehnhart shot against the keeper. The ball rebounded again and Lehnhart scored in the goal skirmish.
West responded with a goal two minutes later.
An injury to a West player forced a half hour delay and the wind kicked up, reminding the players of the last time these two sides met at Juneau’s Adair Kennedy Field in a rain storm.
“This wasn’t that bad but it wasn’t good,” Lehnhart said. “We were against the wind in the first half and they were putting the pressure on. We had a hard time keeping the ball out of our half. Balls were blowing out of bounds. It was a pretty ragged game.”
The Crimson Bears had the wind in the second half and put more chances on goal. West had one good shot to score but senior Max Lyons kept the goalmouth covered.
JDHS had shots by senior Darien Stanger and Lehnhart go wide.
After the final goal, the referee added one minute of stoppage time to play. West could do little in the final minute.
Crimson Bears’ senior center back Adam Soto was the ASAA state tournament Player Of The Game.
“It is unreal,” Soto said of the win. “To pull it out at the very end, it is still unbelievable. We are all pumped right now and hopefully we can keep this energy for the final game.”
West put a lot of pressure on the Crimson Bears but Soto was relentless in his defense.
“All three of our backs were great today,” Lehnhart said. “Tommy Thompson really brought it and competed hard. Edric Carillo, who is filling in for Jacob Sanders, had his best game of the year. We got a lot of good efforts from some players who have not had as many minutes and that was nice to see.”
The Crimson Bears watched Dimond run past South 3-0 in the first semifinal.
“It was a closer game than that, they scored three really fast goals in the last 15 minutes,” Lehnhart said. “I like our chances. We are still playing. You always have to like your chances when you get in any finals. We are happy to be there. They are a really good team and we will have our hands full.”
Lehnhart said if the Crimson Bears have to play defense all game they will be in trouble, they will try to play with the Lynx, attack the Lynx, and do something other teams have not... win a third straight state title.
“The last game we played them they plugged away at the beginning,” Soto said of an early season loss to the Lynx. “But at the end we really settled in defensively. I think if we can stop their attack at the beginning we will have a good go at them.”
Continued Soto, “We have a lot of kids who have put in a lot of time. It is pretty cool that we have 18 kids that have stuck with soccer all through high school. You don’t see that a lot.”