The Crimson Bears finally found their consistency in yet another State Championships game against South. Unfortunately, they were consistently a hair off.
An early second-half header from South was the difference after the teams traded blooper-style goals before the break, and the fourth-seeded Juneau-Douglas High School boys soccer team was upset 2-1 by the fifth-seeded Wolverines in Thursday's state opener at Anchorage Football Stadium.
The loss ended the Bears' quest to repeat as state champions, and marked their first opening-round state exit in nine years. At best, JDHS can now fight through the consolation bracket to secure a fourth-place state finish in 2009. That quest begins bright and early today with their first loser-out match against sixth-seeded West Valley at 8 a.m. West Valley fell to third-seeded West Anchorage 1-0 late Thursday.
The Bears and Wolverines had met in the state title game in each of the past three seasons, with JDHS winning their only championship in that stretch a year ago. Neither squad was expected to return to the title tilt this season after enduring the pains of their respective rebuilding seasons. South will face top-ranked Dimond in a quarterfinal today at 2 p.m.
Thursday's game started on an immediate rough note for Juneau-Douglas as starting centerback Jace Mason injured his hamstring in the opening five minutes and was forced to sit out the remainder of the contest.
"Jace has been the anchor of our defense all year," JDHS head coach Gary Lehnhart said. "(Losing him) change our whole rotation. Our seven rotation was quite different today. We still continued to play rather well."
South got on the board first at the 17-minute mark, when a loose ball from a corner kick managed to slip through a pile of Bear and Wolverine legs to roll into the goal.
JDHS responded 14 minutes later, when Aaron Badilla found Max Smith with a pass. Smith's shot deflected off a South defender and also managed to roll through a pileup and into the goal.
"It was the same deal (as South's goal)," Lehnhart said. "Neither goal was a real clean shot."
The score stuck as the teams entered half-time, but South quickly pulled ahead after the break on a clean header just seven minutes in.
The Bears controlled much of the action for the remainder of the half, but, much like the first half, their scoring opportunities found a variety of ways to fall just short.
"We put a lot of pressure on, we just couldn't find the net," Lehnhart said. "The biggest one for us was probably on a free kick with 10 minutes to go when Joe Slagle's kick hit the post. Not just the post, it hit the inside of the post."
With the clock winding down, Juneau-Douglas managed to force a number of "melees" in front of the net, according to Lehnhart, but bounced their shots over, around and just short of the goal.
"We played a good game and it was a really consistent game throughout the match," the coach said. "It's hard to lose one like that for the kids. We had a tremendous effort from a number of kids."
A few who made those tremendous efforts were Phil Murray, who filled in for Mason at centerback and helped solidify the team's back line. Goalkeeper Taylor Lehnhart also did his part to keep his team in the game, even as the offense sputtered.
"Taylor had to make a few tough saves for us," Gary Lehnhart said. "He also did a good job of reading the game and taking away their long-ball."
The coach also credited all of his central players for controlling the midfield and helping his team control much of the action, and Badilla for playing up to his experience level and pushing the tempo.
"This senior group is pretty disappointed," Lehnhart said. "We can't change what the matchups are and it was a pretty tough matchup."