Bad bounce stops Rangers one step from stateOctober 28, 2013
By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer
FLOYDS KNOBS — The exhaustion was on their faces. It was in the way they walked off the field. It was in the way Forest Park boys soccer players sat on the ground, consoling teammates while trying to wrap their own minds around the doleful reality they’d just begun to grip.
The Class 1A semistate championship against Providence may have boiled down to Forest Park’s missed opportunities, coach Brent Sicard conceded. The match’s lone goal — a hapless, split-second accident in overtime — resulted in the Rangers’ second consecutive 1-0 dismissal from the state tournament and provided a testament to the sport’s occasional cruelty. But above the speculation, the what-ifs and the if-onlys, the effort presented an absolute above all else.
“The guys gave me everything they had,” Sicard said. “There’s little else I can say about their effort. There are going to be guys that can’t walk for a week coming off this field because of everything they gave. That’s all I can ask for.”
Between a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory in their semifinal against No. 5 Speedway (21-3) and the later loss to the Pioneers in extra time, the Rangers toiled through 188 minutes of play Saturday. Nonetheless, the effort barely waned. It couldn’t.
“It really messes with you,” Ranger senior Cody Tempel admitted of the games’ physical toll. “It gets inside your head but you just have to fight through it. And it burns. Your whole body’s always burning. And this cold makes you stiff. It just adds up.
“We just knew that we had to keep each other going and keep it positive. And we can just fight to the end, and that’s what we did. We just fought and fought and we wouldn’t stop.”
A championship match that began with Providence (15-6-2) dictating tempo through competent possession evolved into a two-way test of attrition, with counterattacks mounting in succession.
With the match still scoreless almost four minutes into the first overtime period, a cross by the Pioneers dribbled through the Rangers’ penalty area along the 6-yard line. Ranger defender Cole Henke, who had hastily retreated back to his spot on the right side from a 50-50 challenge around midfield, booted the bounding ball forward in a clearance attempt, only to have it ricochet directly off a teammate’s back into the net. The sudden redirect afforded goalkeeper Blake Altmann no time to react.
As Providence relished its serendipitous score, the Rangers entered a momentary daze as life seemed zapped from each player.
The Rangers (14-4-3) regrouped to challenge in the match’s final 10 minutes, but the day’s demands seemed to have finally set in against a Providence defense that hasn’t yielded a goal in seven postseason matches.
“This team just had the most heart of any team,” Forest Park midfielder Ben Englert said of his group. “We (were) just never going to give up. ... Things just didn’t work out.”
The goal marked the first deficit the Rangers faced in their six tournament contests. And with Speedway’s second-half equalizer coming off a penalty kick, Forest Park’s defense “didn’t give up a goal today in the run of play, really,” Sicard said.
“That says a lot for our defense. The season we’ve had, the defense is the biggest reason we were in this spot and had this opportunity,” he continued. “We were just looking for one (attempt) to shake the back of the net today and just couldn’t find it. Had a couple opportunities, and those are ones that we’ve been finding a way to finish this year.”
After lacing the game-winner off a 20-yard free kick in the semifinal, Ranger senior Dakota Begle ripped a blast to the left of the goal in the championship’s opening minutes. Freshman Evan Dilger, who roofed Forest Park’s first goal into the top of the net in the semifinals, then fired a volley to the left of the post from the penalty spot with about 28 minutes remaining in the first half. Spenser Sermersheim remained a threat up top throughout the match, but shots seemed magnetized for the Providence goalkeeper’s gloves. Englert, who eventually subsided in overtime because of muscle cramps, didn’t relent in his continuous streaks down the right flank, prompting Sicard to admit, “I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did.”
“Overall, they held the possession game but I thought our chances were a little more dangerous than theirs,” Sicard added. “We just couldn’t find a way to put one away.”
The final whistle invited the inevitable scene of sorrow. Henke and junior classmate Alex Russell walked off the field with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Student manager Sam Russell sat on the team’s bench, tears streaming down his face. Sitting among teammates, Joel Weyer stared across the field, lost in the moment.
The run had ended, but what a run it was, Sicard said. The Rangers accrued the most wins they’d had in eight years. They earned the program’s first regional title, knocked off a ranked opponent in three consecutive tourney matches and came just two wins shy of a state title.
“It was awesome,” Englert said. “It doesn’t feel like it now, but we’ll look back and think, ”˜Damn, we were one of the best four teams in the state.’ We didn’t get much respect throughout the year with the rankings, but this team knew we had the heart and the skill to just continue our run and make history.”
The defeat marked the end of careers for 10 seniors, whom Sicard and Englert both heralded for their role in the team’s prosperity.
“Success breeds success,” Sicard said. “The leadership that these guys show for these young guys ... can only mean lots of positives down the road. There’s going to be a lot gained from this run.”
Added Englert: “They’re irreplaceable. Everything. They’ve been the best seniors I’ve ever been with. Next year, we have such big shoes to fill. I honestly don’t know if we’re going to be able to. I loved playing with them. Wish we could play again.”
A somber Tempel, with a yellow hoodie cloaked over his head, labeled his classmates “the best teammates you can find,” and with a blanket draped over his back, Weyer offered a final remembrance.
“It was just a lot of fun. The most fun I’ve ever had in any sport,” he said. “It was just a great feeling to come out with these guys. I love them all.”
Contact Joe Jasinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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