Conceding a goal in the early goings of the championship match, Sacred Heart soccer ended a second successive campaign with a district tournament loss to St. Paul Lutheran.
Saints senior Trey Beerman sent in the go-ahead assist via corner kick to sophomore Philip Evan McCaslin, who headed home the winner in the 12th minute of a 1-0 final at Clover Dell Park in Sedalia.
Dominating possession from first touch and out-shooting the Gremlins, St. Paul Lutheran (20-0-1) controlled the opening 10 minutes of the match, producing a string of three corner kicks that led to the eventual winner.
It was the third time this season the Saints had beaten Sacred Heart. Suffering a 5-0 result Sept. 11 at the Clinton Tournament and a 1-0 loss Oct. 17 at Clover Dell, Gremlins head coach Sam Jones likened the opening 10 minutes of the match to the first matchup.
“It took us a little while to get into the game,” Jones said. “We don’t always see that level of speed. … You can’t mimic it in practice, you can’t replicate it.”
Shooting against the breeze in the first half, Sacred Heart senior Jude Rollings drew out the Saints goalkeeper around the 20 minute mark on a free kick, and again with a corner kick at 34 minutes.
On another Rollings free kick, Gremlins senior Juan Fernandez threatened to score during a balanced final 30 minutes of the first 40. Ian Viscarra, sophomore, booted a loose ball wide right moments before halftime, a sign that suggested Gremlins (16-9) were fit to match the top-seeded and undefeated visitors.
“We started picking ourselves up,” Fernandez said. “The adrenaline rush was getting the best of us.”
Sacred Heart’s best chance to equalize was awarded around the 50th minute on a foul drawn by Fernandez. Racing his mark for the ball, the Gremlins senior was fouled just outside the 18-yard box and faced a four-man wall opposite the keeper in goal.
Fernandez faked an aggressive approach on the direct-kick attempt, with Viscarra circling from the inside of the box and delivering a strike wide right of the post.
With less than 20 minutes remaining, Gremlins junior Dallin Chappell twice defended a breakaway opportunity for St. Paul Lutheran junior Haakon Arnesen. Arnesen and the Saints sealed the victory playing the ball near the corner flag.
Sacred Heart junior John Ulbrich earned his first yellow card of the season, and the team’s third of the season, in the 70th minute.
Landing six players on the all-district team, Juan Pablo Suarez-Vargas, senior, joined Chappell, Rollings, Viscarra and Fernandez as first-team all-district selections. Ulbrich was an honorable mention.
Fernandez, who played junior varsity in Sedalia last season after starting for La Monte, said returning to varsity action — and recording a hat trick — in the season-opener was the high point of an overall successful season.
“I felt the connection right away,” Fernandez said. “It was one of the best feelings in the world.
“Every single individual, they gave me a reason to show up for every practice and live for tomorrow,” Fernandez added. “They gave me hope. I couldn’t be more thankful for them. They made the game beautiful.”
Jones said the season “never felt like a grind,” given the character and chemistry on the team.
“It felt like I was a kid playing again, how excited I was for practice,” Jones said.
Jones added that the leadership and attitude from Fernandez was emblematic of the feel-good vibes described.
“I don’t think people see the other side of it,” Jones said. “He’s made our entire school a better place. I can tell you countless stories about the kind things he has done when nobody was watching.”
Cole Camp senior Chais Paul and juniors Riley Doogs, Dayton Oelrichs, Keegan VoSmith claimed first-team all-district honors, while junior Ean Brandt earned honorable mention.
Green Ridge seniors Mason Harding, Tanner Hoos and Harrison Needy joined junior Landon Mason as first-team all-district selections and senior Carson Brown was named honorable mention.
La Monte seniors Carter Knoernschild, Tanner Martin and sophomore Harold Benavides earned first-team all-district honors, while sophomore Aiden Knoernschild was an honorable mention.
St. Paul Lutheran’s Arnesen, Beerman, and juniors Vebjoern Nedreboe, Daniel Onarheim, Sander Bekkesletten and Rayuth Phan claimed first-team status and McCaslin earned honorable mention. The Saints move forward 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 with a home quarterfinal match against Barstow.
Alex Agueros can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @abagueros2.