The word of the day Thursday for Doherty coach Jon Shub was unlucky.
My, how that would change.
Shub continuously calmed his frustrated players on the field by saying, “Hey don’t worry that was just unlucky,” as Liberty continued to control play and penetrate the Spartan defense at will.
Ironically, with just over 3 minutes remaining, the unluckiest moment struck Liberty and sent Doherty on its way to the state tournament with a 1-0 victory.
Bryan Howard, scoreless the entire season, intercepted a clearing attempt by Liberty goalkeeper Kyle Krumm in the final minutes and sailed a shot back in from the 30-yard line. Call it lucky or call it miraculous, but Howard’s shot was accidentally redirected by Liberty captain Ross Johnson, standing in front of the right corner of the net, and past Krumm to hand the host Spartans the victory.
“We were on our back heels most of the game, but held in there and kept going,” Howard said. “The goalie passed for a clear and it went right to me. I took a shot, got a lucky touch and it went in.”
The victory gives Doherty (8-5-1, 3-2 5A Metro) the league’s second automatic state qualifying spot behind champion Pine Creek. Liberty (7-7-1, 3-2) must hope for an at-large selection into the state tournament, a long-shot proposition.
“I was at a loss for words. You don’t expect something like that to happen,” Shub said. “You hope for it but you never plan on it. It’s unfortunate for Liberty, but very fortunate for us that the ball bounced our way.”
The game’s shocking end left Johnson sitting at midfield in disbelief and the other 13 Liberty seniors visibly upset.
“I thought we controlled play, we controlled the spacing on the field, we controlled the tempo, but this is a cruel game,” said Lancers coach Gregg Braha, who in no way faulted Johnson for the unfortunate play. “You see this all the time in soccer. Both teams knew the stakes.
“No kid deserves this fate. No athlete at this age deserves to have this pressure put on him. It just happened to him and hopefully he can put it in his rearview mirror and move on.”
The game wouldn’t have hinged on that one play had Doherty’s defense not turned away several Liberty offensive chances, including seven corner kicks.
“We have a very solid defense and that is something Doherty has always been known for,” Shub said. “The guys battled their brains out and worked their hearts out. I can’t not be proud of their efforts this season.”
Ryan Moldenhauer, who beat out returning goalie Josh Story for the starting gig this year, made a series of saves to keep Liberty off the scoreboard. He leads the 5A Metro League with a .85 goals-against average.
“Our defense played amazing today,” said the keeper. “Each one of them stepped up in their position and played really well.”
Yet Moldenhauer couldn’t help but feel for the Liberty players after the game.
“I feel really bad for Liberty for it to end like that,” Moldenhauer said. “It’s almost impossible (to stop a redirect) because he has his momentum going and it’s just really unfortunate.”
Liberty will learn its postseason fate Sunday.
“Sometimes the bounces aren’t going to go your way,” Braha said. “This was another one of those days, unfortunately another one of those days on the last day of the season.”