At Smith Fields in Whitefish for the 2018 State A boys soccer championship, the Polson Pirates and the Northern A conference champion Bulldogs would put on quite a show in an energetic quest to claim the coveted state A crown last Saturday. This would be just the third foray to the championship match in the history of the Pirate boys soccer program, who hoped that the idiomatic expression third times a charm would play out in Polsons favor.
With two of the top three scorers among Class A in Pirates Mack Moderie and Robin Erickson having collaborated on over 50 goals, inclusive of kicks from the penalty mark, as well as having contributed over two dozen assists, Polson certainly had the horsepower at their disposal to shape the outcome of this contest in their favor. Polson was also the only team to inflict the lone blemish upon the otherwise pristine Whitefish record, having forged a 3-3 tie with the Bulldogs in their last encounter three weeks prior.
Laden with eight seasoned seniors who had honed their craft over the course of multiple seasons in addition to a supporting cast of up-and-comers fleshing out the Pirate roster, history was beckoning for this season to culminate in the prize of a program first. Yet, despite the best planning and preparation that could be mustered, a Bulldog Burger-lar would get loose by the name of Xander Burger whose caliber of play would prove instrumental in purloining the prize sought by Pirate players when he turned in a five-goal performance.
Unlike some postseason contests in which both teams start out cautiously as they gauge each other for strengths and weaknesses, this championship started out high octane with both being aggressive on the attack.
At the 10-minute mark, Pirate keeper Kaden Nelson made an aggressive charge to intercept encroachment of the ball near the corner of the box. The Bulldogs ball handler was just able to tap it by outstretched glove reach. With the keeper momentarily beyond optimal intervention range, Ian Lacey unloaded a shot on the frame of the goal. Fortunately for the Pirates, defender Austin Luper vectored to intercept and cleared the ball so as to deny what would likely have been the first goal of the contest.
At the 23rd-minute mark, Pirate Robin Erickson uncorked a shot from the left side of the box, which was initially deflected by Whitefish keeper Colter Upton. Unable to quite secure the ball, a handful of Bulldog defenders simultaneously converged upon the area to clog access lanes as Erickson sought unsuccessfully to maneuver past the congestion of the traffic jam.
Back-to-back goals by Bulldog Burger within a three-minute span would stake Whitefish with a 2-0 advantage. Polson would counter when Nico River cut that lead in half after a Bridger Wenzel feed, 2-1.
Whitefish would reacquire the margin with a second-half opening-minute goal by Burger, giving him a three-goal hat trick at that juncture, 3-1. Polson would counter within minutes after a Mack Moderie attack that was initially deflected by Bulldog keeper Upton. As the keeper sought to secure the ball with outstretched fingers, Erickson beat him to the spot and flicked the ball into the back corner of the net to draw his team within a goal once again, 3-2.
Thereafter, Polson had four different shot opportunities of varying degrees of threat level: wide left, over the crossbar, an on-frame Luper zinger from the wing that forced a keeper intercept and a Moderie carry to within launch range that was diffused by Bulldog defenders.
A strategic turning point in the match would take place just before the three-quarter juncture. Bulldog Joshua Gunderson and a Pirate defender were battling for control of the ball within the 18-yard-box of the Polson goal. A penalty kick would be awarded, which Bulldog Ian Lacey would bury into the back of the net to re-extend the lead back to a two goal advantage, 4-2.
At that juncture, Polson was forced into a delicate risk versus reward strategy in an effort to close the gap with time dwindling. Pirate coach Adam Fansher observed, I felt the turning point in the match was the penalty... and (we) had to push some extra players forward to catch up, leaving our defenders exposed at that back.
Over the course of the remainder of the match, the Pirates would have twice as many shot opportunities as their opponent, 11 to five a half dozen of them taken on the frame of the goal that required defensive intervention. River launched one from 20 yards out, forcing the keeper to deflect it over the crossbar at the 58th minute. Another was double-pronged when Moderie sought to penetrate the defensive array in front of the goal at about the 65 minute mark. When his effort was repelled by defenders, Moderie regained possession and deftly passed the ball over to an open Connor Lanier on the other side. Lanier, who kicked field goals for the Pirate football squad last season, unleashed his best effort, but the ball couldnt quite gain enough lift nor zing to evade the grasp of the keeper.
By contrast, Whitefish would add a pair of insurance goals when Burger drilled both of his chances through the spread between Polson defenders.
Though the outcome was disappointing, Fansher was nevertheless impressed by the team effort.
We knew going into it that we would have to be almost perfect as a team ... but unfortunately we made too many mistakes ... That space we allowed them ... combined with an outstanding performance from Xander Burger was too much ... to contain, the Pirates coach said.
In retrospect, one wonders whether the outcome could have been shaped differently had health issues not impacted the team in the form of limiting the availability of a pair of seasoned veterans. A Pirate squad at full strength and playing at an optimal level are a couple of variables that might have been able to tilt the balance toward the Pirates. Nevertheless, the team finishes with one of the best, if not the best, overall record in program history as well as fourth-best conference record over the course of the past decade.
State A Championship
Whitefish 6, Polson 2
Polson (13-2-1), Whitefish (14-0-1)
Polson 1 1 2
Whitefish 2 4 6
W g Xander Burger (a Ian Lacey) 26
W g Burger (a Casey Schneider) 29
P g Nico River (a Bridger Wenzel) 32
W g Burger (a Schneider) 41
P g Robin Erickson rebound (a Mack Moderie) 43
W g Lacey (pk) 57
W g Burger 70
W g Burger (a Lacey) 75
Shots-(on-GOAL) W>17(14), P25(15)*
SAVES P8* (Kaden Nelson 4sv)+4h, W (Colter Upton 9sv)+3h
CORNERS W8, P2. FOULS W11, P12*
Pindiv sh(SOG) Moderie 7(4): wide4,wideR16(40buzzer)(43)wideL47dk,Wdefdefl50carry(W#20Ddefl65a)(W#12Ddefl69); R.Erickson 7(4): 9(Wdefenders23clog)(barelywideR?38GKdive)(g)over48(67)wideR77; River 4(3): (g)(58gkdeflover)(60)wideR63 ; Wenzel 4(2): wideL38(42)(Wdefdefl59hdr)over68; Austin Luper (1): (49); Connor Lanier (1): (65b); Keyan Dalbey 1: over66
Windiv sh(SOG) Burger (6): (PDdefl6)(g)(g)(g)(g)(g); Schneider (2): (7)(P#8Ddefl27); Lacey 3(2): (P#12Ddefl10)(pk)wide79; Ammann Koch-Ford 2(1): (33)over34; James Thompson (1): (ck54); Gabe Menicke 2(1): (P#19Ddefl62)73; Marvin Kimera 1:73.
Asterisk (*) denotes stat variant(s) where Whitefish sideline specs differ from JH unofficial tally: 11sh, P10f. Discrepancies between tallies attributed to not counting some defender deflections as SOGs.
ACRONYM KEY: sv (save), h (handle = low threat level of scoring, but unwise if left unattended), sh (shot), SOG (shot-on-goal = on frame), (minute), g (goal), a (assist), D (defender), defl (deflection), > (greater than).
2011 State A Championship
Whitefish 3, Polson 0
Polson (9-4-2), Whitefish (13-2-0)
Polson 0 0 - 0
Whitefish 1 2 - 3
W g Sam Donaldson (a Sean Janni) 33
W g Nathan Boone (a Curran Edland) 56
W g Janni (a Donaldson) 80
Shots on goal Polson 7, Whitefish 15
SAVES Polson 9 (Peregrine Frissell), Whitefish 5 (Thomas Clark)
CORNERS Polson 4, Whitefish 5
FOULS P8, W8. CARDS none
Pindiv sh(SOG) James Larson: WDefdefl, WDefdefl; Jonah Kasnitz : post51ricochet; Riley Lemm :
couple of sniper shots from about 25 yd ln. Other Pirate 2011 roster players: Nick Howell (a-s, 2x a-c), Jonathan Murphy (2x a-c), Caden von Wildenradt (a-c), VJ Araos, Everardo Guerrero, Jon Heutmaker, Zach Calhoun, et al
2002 State A Championship
Whitefish 3, Polson 1
Polson (4-1-3E, 8-3-3)
Polson 0 1 1
Whitefish 1 2 3
W g Jonathan Cloud 5
W g Cloud (a Sean Person) 57
P g Alex Morton (a Josh Goulet) 62
W g Eric Schmidt (a Person) 76
Shots-(on-GOAL) P7, W8
SAVES P (Wade Bailey 12), W (Kevin Bostock 3)
CORNERS P1,W6. FOULS P18,W14. CARDS P2yellow.
other Pirate players mentioned in local media coverage: Josh Gallatin, Adam Hertz, Eric Ho, Drew McClain, Brandon McCurdy, Mike Nelson, Drew Wilson. (Sa26Oct02)
Polson Pirate boys soccer records thru the years:
2018 (13-2-1, N6-1-1), 2017 (11-2-1, N8-0), 2016 (6-5, N3-3), 2015 (8-3-2, N6-0-2), 2014 (1-8-3, N1-4-3), 2013 (1-11, N1-7), (2-8, N1-7), 2011 (9-4-2, N6-2), 2010 (9-4-1, N7-0-1), 2009 (7-4-1, N5-2-1), 2002 (8-3-3, E4-1-3).