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SPARTANS CLAIM THE CROWN! Bainbridge celebrates first-ever state title in boys soccer
Sam Rice jumped to his feet with a scream and barreled through his teammates on the bench, his right hand slapping high-fives to anyone within reach as a contagious frenzy gripped the Spartans.
There was no doubt no more.
Connor Winship had just drilled the Spartans’ second goal from one yard outside the box, a 19th minute shot that slipped between three Mercer Island defenders and goalkeeper Sam Miller and smashed off the far post to give Bainbridge a 2-0 lead in the Class 3A state title match.
It was, in the words of Spartan midfielder Tanner Salmon, “a really sick goal.”
But it was a bit more than that, added Rice, a senior forward for Bainbridge.
“The second goal, I was thinking: state champion. State champion,” Rice recalled.
Bainbridge Island won its first-ever state title in boys soccer Saturday, outplaying and outlasting Mercer Island 3-2 at Carl Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
The Spartans had played in the final last year, but fell to the Camas Papermakers 3-0.
While that loss was never far from mind in this year’s playoff run, the 2-1 defeat against Lakeside for the Metro League championship wasn’t the way the Spartans wanted to end the regular season this year.
What followed, though, were three straight playoff wins — 5-0 against Hazen, 3-2 against No. 1 Shorewood, and 6-2 against Mountain View — and another shot at the state title.
“I was really impressed with the whole team on how well we came back after that,” midfielder Michael Crowley said of the Lakeside loss.
“We had a tough schedule in state after that. We really used that as motivation to get as far as we did.
“We got so many contributions from so many different players,” Crowley said.
Last year in the title game, he said, they came out flat. After the loss, he thought they had given one away.
“I felt after that game, ‘What if? What if? What if?’” Crowley said.
Bainbridge led from the start against Mercer Island, with a goal by Crowley in the 10th minute.
The Spartans led 2-0 after Winship scored, but the Islanders narrowed the gap to 2-1 after senior forward Jake Michael scored in the 47th minute.
Sophomore forward Peter Fawley gave the Spartans a 3-1 edge in the 68th minute.
Jordan Morris put Mercer Island back into the thick of it, 3-2, with a goal in the 70th minute, but the Bainbridge defense then held on for the win.
“I was a bit worried,” said Bainbridge goalkeeper Carsten Frederickson.
“I knew that they were dangerous the whole time, and that they could play with us. They have great players, honestly, and I was worried,” he said. “But it all worked out in the end.”
“We played a great game,” Frederickson added. “We possessed pretty well against them and our strategy to shut down Jordan Morris worked.”
“Coach George told us they are always good for a goal,” added Devereaux Kesler. “Obviously, they were in that second half.”
Though the sideline was frenetic, Kesler said the players on the field kept their calm.
“We were just thinking, can this happen. Is this our time? It was,” he said.
Though the Spartans were returning finalists, Mercer Island (11-1-3 regular season) had been ranked No. 6.
Mercer Island coach Steve Newman said his team needed to finish on the big opportunities they were given to win the game.
“I liked the way they came back in the second half, and then had them on their heels the whole half,” Newman said.
“I tell you, we should have finished one or two at the end. We had our chances. You make your chances and you finish your chances,” he said.
The close score wasn’t a surprise, he said.
“We figured they would get one or two easy, and we would need to get three or four,” Newman said. “They won the first half; we were hoping to win the second.”
“They did well, they deserved to win,” he added.
Bainbridge got a chance to study the team they would face in the finals after dispatching Mountain View 6-2 in the semifinals Friday at Sparks Stadium.
Bainbridge High led 2-1 at the half and put the game out of reach after Sebastian Scales and Crowley scored on penalty kicks over the span of two minutes in the second and Peter Fawley added two goals late in the contest.
“A lot of the guys were prepared for a big game,” said junior defender Alex Coplan.
The Spartans watched Mercer Island play after Bainbridge won its semifinal match, so the team was prepared.
“We knew what was coming, we knew who their go-to guy was — we were able to shut him down all game,” Coplan said.
“The guys were really calm, and able to control the ball well,” he added.
Still, the match was never a cakewalk.
“They were not going to make it that easy on us,” said Bainbridge coach George Vukic.
“They were so dangerous just outside the box,” he said. “They were very creative. We really hadn’t seen that all year, the way that they could drop the ball in the box, and get behind the defense, and you knew that if they knocked it in there, it was going.”
The Spartans had a bit of luck in the game, but were unfortunate plenty of times, too, as sure shots on goal failed to find the net.
Vukic said the game resembled 10 other matches this year, with the Spartans getting the bulk of opportunities.
“You don’t get 80 minutes at this level, you end up giving some away,” he said, adding that he wanted the Spartans to take the lead early in case time got away from them at the end.
“Just like today. We would not have won without the early goals,” he said.
The Spartans offensive output proved too much for the Islanders.
“We can score goals at any moment. We’re very dangerous from many different directions,” Vukic said.
“We have very dangerous players. We have them left, we have them right, and we have them coming up the middle,” he added.
“We can score.”
One of the big scoring dynamos in the playoffs was Fawley, the team’s sophomore forward.
Fawley said the defense was critical when Mercer Island threatened to knot the score.
“I’m so proud of my teammates. They all played really well,” Fawley said. “It was just an awesome team effort today. I’m so happy that we won it. We deserved it.”
The title — the Spartans’ first in soccer — and the team’s place in history was still sinking in after the game.
“It’s unbelievable, actually,” Fawley said. “I’m like speechless.”
But the Spartans said it couldn’t have happened to a greater group of guys.
“Honestly, this is one of the most well-knit teams I’ve ever played on,” said Scales, a junior forward. “We’re all playing for each other.”
Many thought last year’s team was golden for making the finals, he added.
“A lot of people were not expecting us to get back to the state championship,” Scales said.
“It was great to actually come back with a vengeance. We knew what it was like to lose and we weren’t going to have that happen again,” he said.