(Photo by Brent Shipman, Staff)
ST. LOUIS -- Forced to fight out of an early hole on Saturday, the Sikeston Bulldogs saw their season come to close with a 1-0 loss to the Trinity Crusaders in the Class 2, quarterfinals.
"We came out and fought," Sikeston senior Hunter Williams said. "We started a little slow and they put one in on us.
"It's hard to come back after they score in the first five minutes or so, but we battled and we got a lot of chances. It could have went either way, it just went their way today."
After scoring in the first 15 minutes of each of their first three postseason contests, the Bulldogs found themselves on the other side of things when the Titans took the lead with 35:06 still to play in the first half.
Shortly after a corner kick from the right side of the net, Trinity's Tommy Koerper sent a kick from near the corner of the field high in front of the net that was knocked in by teammate Nick Nemerguth for the only goal of the contest.
"It was a near post header," Trinity head coach Vince Drake said. "We call it No. 1. We have lots of different No. 1's, but it depends on whose doing the one.
"It's designed for Nemerguth to run near post and Tommy had a beautiful kick, placed it just inside the six and Nick just ran right through it and put it right on."
With the Sikeston's defense still getting settled in so early in the game, Bulldogs' head coach Doyle Noe said the Titans just caught the Bulldogs playing on their heels.
"The play of the game, obviously, is us kind of on our heels in the first few minutes and they snuck a goal in," he said. "We've been working all week on clearances for long throw-ins and corners.
"Sure enough in the first few minutes they get a long throw, a defender kind of stands, and one of their forwards with a lot of movement steps in front and gets a quick flick and our goalkeeper Mike Gipson can't do anything about it."
Unable to even the score before the break, Sikeston came out in the second half and spent the last 40 minutes of the game fighting to keep their season alive.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Titan's goalie Jeremiah Cooper was unflappable as he stopped a total of 15 shots on the night.
Of all of Cooper's saves, the most impressive was easily on a shot by Chase Baron with 14:38 to play. Taking a pass inside the box, Baron sent a shot to the net that was reminiscent of Brandon Goodwin's game-winner against Farmington in the sectional round.
Unlike Goodwin's shot, however, Baron's volley to the top crossbar was stopped when Cooper got just enough of his outstretched hands on the ball to make the play.
"That's a great shot by Chase," said Noe. "He's at the top of the box, turns and hits a volley. It's dipping right underneath the crossbar and the keeper makes and amazing save.
"With both feet he leaps backwards, just gets a finger on it and was able to push it over the goal. That's a great save by that keeper. Other than (Nemerguth's) goal, that's probably the play of the game for them. If that goes in we have the momentum and it's a whole new ballgame."
With time rapidly running out, Sikeston continued to keep the pressure up, peppering the net with a few more shots in the final 10 minutes.
Unshaken, Trinity's defense held firm and cleared the ball at any opportunity until the clock wound down, giving the Titans their third shutout of the postseason.
"I thought we played the whole second half well," Williams said. "We got a bunch of chances and there was some that were just an inch off and the goalie made some great saves. He had a heck of a game."
Though their season ended sooner than they had hoped, this year's Bulldog squad set plenty of new benchmarks for the Sikeston program.
Besides going farther in the playoffs than any Bulldog team before, this year's team also also set a new record for most wins in a season (20) and goals scored. Gipson also ends his high school career by setting a new mark for most shutouts in a season with 11.
"We're 20-5 and at the beginning of the year if you'd told me that I'd be pretty pleased with it," Noe said. "Obviously as we went on we improved quite a bit, played a lot better as a team and guys started stepping into their roles."
Added Williams, "It's upsetting now, but after all this goes away tomorrow I can look back on it. We had a great year and we kind of set the bar for soccer at Sikeston. I think the team will do well in years to come."