(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
PERRYVILLE -- After last year's heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame in the Class 2, District 1 championship game, the Sikeston Bulldogs had plenty of time this past offseason to dwell on their missed opportunity.
A year later and back in the title game against the Perryville Pirates, the Bulldogs' current group of seniors weren't about let their final shot at a championship slip away.
"They thought about it all year," Sikeston head coach Doyle Noe said of the loss. "We get on the bus today and (senior) Blake Angle pulls out the article from last year with us on the ground and Notre Dame in the background celebrating.
"A lot of leadership from those guys and they weren't going to let us get beat. They weren't going to let that happen again."
With the article taped to its bench as a constant reminder of what was at stake, Sikeston came out and got an early goal from Hunter Williams before holding on for a 1-0 win as goalkeeper Michael Gipson earned his school-record 11th shutout of the season.
"We came out and were up for the challenge," said Noe. "Perryville, in their semifinal game, came out with a lot of intensity and got an early goal and I think that won that game for them.
"We couldn't let that happen tonight so we came out and weren't playing smooth or as nice as I would have liked us too, but we definitely match their intensity until the game kind of calmed down. Then Hunter got a big goal pretty early and that set the tone."
Williams goal came a mere 9:29 second into the contest, when he took a pass from Brandon Goodwin up the left side, then fought off a pair of defenders for the score.
"(Goodwin) just sent me a good ball," Williams said. "I felt one guy on my left and I knew the other one was kind of behind him so I could could fake to the left.
"I got to go right, kicked the ball behind me, then turned and it was a one-on-one with the keeper."
Williams sent a shot from inside the left corner of the box found with the ball finding the net untouched for the go-ahead score.
Even with the lead, Sikeston continued to attack the Pirates net up until the break and finished the night with eight shots on goal.
Though Perryville turned up the pressure early in the second half, forcing the Bulldogs to play a more defensive minded game, the Pirates came up empty-handed thanks to several diving saves on the part of Gipson, who came out of the net often to secure anything in site.
"We pushed back," Gipson said. "We didn't let them push us down. We stayed aggressive, played our game and played smart."
Forced to pull their goalie up to midfield and bring defenders in during the final minutes to create more offense, Perryville watched as Sikeston handled the ball away from the net as time expired.
They finished with night with seven shots on net.
"They scored nine minutes into the game, so for 71 minutes you're trying to come from behind and that's never an easy job," Pirates' coach Jerry Fulton said. "Doyle had his boys ready. They played a great game. We just came up on the short end of the stick."
In shutting out the Pirates, Noe credited defender Steven Baker with helping Gipson neutralize Perryville's star midfielder Bryce Weibrecht the entire night. It was Weibrecht who gave Perryville the lead just 3:45 minutes in their semifinal game against Notre Dame.
"Mike and Steven were probably two of the big keys in the game. There No. 31, Weibrecht, he's a great player. He's 6'5" with just amazing speed and is real physical and aggressive. Steven was matching step-for-step with him.
"There's nobody else around here that can do that. He did a good job of putting pressure on him and frustrating him a little bit. When he did get free or other guys did, Mike was there to clean it up. He wasn't going to be denied."
For the Bulldogs, this year's championship represents the third district title in school history. The last came in 2005, years before anyone on the current roster entered high school.
"We knew it was coming sooner or later," Gipson said of the championship. "With all the work that we've been putting in I think it's well earned."
Added Williams, "This is all I've ever wanted. It's what I've been working for since I was about six."
Sikeston will be in action on Tuesday against the winner of the Class 2, District 2 Tournament, whose championship will be held tonight.