Isai Gutierrez (17) receives congratulations after scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory that sent Liberal to the Class 5A state soccer championship game. Liberal defeated Topeka Seaman to advance and faced Stilwell Blue Valley late Saturday. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Liberal coach Lori Navarro has instilled one simple philosophy when playing games in the playoffs — when you get a shot, take it.
Isai Gutierrez had one shot in the first seven minutes of the semi-final playoff game against Topeka Seaman Friday, and he took it. The ball deflected off a Viking defender and landed in the goal for a 1-0 lead.
“In games like these, one shot may be all you get,” Navarro said. “You have to be aware and be ready to take it.”
It turned out that one shot was enough, and the Redskins advanced to their second consecutive state championship appearance with the 1-0 victory.
“I had a personal mark,” Gutierrez said, referring to a Topeka Seaman player that was assigned to him. With a player in his hip pocket most of the night, along with teammate Eduardo Moreno, Seaman tried to eliminate Liberal’s top two scoring threats.
But Gutierrez was able to get some distance from his mark in front of the Viking goal.
“I had a breakaway, and it was my only chance,” he said. “It was very tough to get around them, marked or not. We knew it would be tough to get loose.”
But Gutierrez did, and with 34:36 still to play in the first half, Liberal’s defense still had to slow down a fast offense that the Vikings had at their disposal.
Several times Seaman forwards sprinted by a Redskin defender. But the Liberal defense was able to kick the ball out of play and allow the entire defense to set up.
And when the Redskins were on defense, there was no way Topeka Seaman could score.
And they tried.
But Liberal limited Seaman to very few shots on goal and the Redskins spent most of the game dribbling the ball near midfield looking for a way to attack the sagged-in Viking defense.
Late in the second half, the Redskins offense started to find some seams against Seaman, but three times the Redskins were called offsides. On came after the ball deflected off the Viking goalkeepers hands and Moreno kicked the ball into the net. The goal was disallowed after the offsides call.
With 2:31 remaining in the game, Seaman had a chance to tie the game when a Viking broke loose in front of the Redskin goal, but Ricardo Castro made a diving save to preserve the lead.
Despite the win, Navarro was not pleased with her team’s play in the second half.
“We played well in the first half,” she said. “But we were flat-footed in the second half. We could have done better. We just threw the ball down the lanes, we weren’t working it. (Eduardo) Moreno wasn’t even in the game out there. Even when you have a mark, you have to make them work, you have to wear them out.”
Stilwell advanced to the title game with a 1-0 double overtime victory over Kapaun. Stilwell played a similar style to Wichita West, playing nine defenders and only one offensive threat most of the game. In the second overtime, Stilwell was fouled just beyond the goal box, and the kick sailed around the Kapaun wall and into the goal for the win.
Stilwell fans rushed on to the field despite calls from the PA announcer to stay off, but the elation of knocking off St. Thomas Aquinas earlier in the week followed by another quality victory over Kapaun was too emotional for the fans to ignore.
Liberal and Stilwell faced off late Saturday for the championship in Kansas City. See results in Monday’s Leader & Times.