Pirate soccer players capture second place in state championship
WHITEFISH – Though it wasn't the season finale the Polson Pirate boys’ soccer team had hoped for, a Class A state win, the Pirates still posted a rock-solid season.
“The championship match didn’t go the way we wanted, but I was impressed with the effort of the whole team,” said Polson head coach Adam Fansher. “It’s always disappointing to lose in the championship match, but it doesn’t diminish what our players accomplished, as far as I know, it’s the best win/loss record in the history of Polson High School Soccer boys or girls.”
The Pirates finished the season with a mark of 14-2-1. The tie game and both losses came against Whitefish. Saturday’s game marked the third time in the history of the boys’ soccer program that the Pirates advanced to the state championship match (2002, 2011 and 2018).
The Pirate squad clinched a spot in the championship by surviving a 3-2 penalty-shootout against the Columbia Falls Wildcats in a playoff match; a 7-3 home quarterfinals win against Missoula Loyola; and a 1-0 road semifinals win against the Belgrade Panthers (two-time state champions).
In Saturday’s state final at Smith Fields in Whitefish, the first 26 minutes were evenly-played by both teams. Bulldog senior Xander Burger posted the first goal of the match in the 27th minute. Burger followed up with another goal at the 30-minute mark to put the Bulldogs 2-0. Pirate Nico River shook the back of the net at the 33-minute mark off an assist from Bridger Wenzel. The score was 2-1 for the Bulldogs at the half.
A quick goal by Burger started the second half and put Whitefish up 3-1. Three minutes later, Pirate Robin Erickson punched a shot in to draw the game score closer, 3-2. At 58 minutes, the Bulldogs took a 4-2 lead on an Ian Lacey penalty shot.
“I felt the turning point in the match was when we conceded the penalty at 3-2,” Fansher said. “We had to push some extra players forward to catch up, leaving our defenders exposed at the back. In that space, we allowed them to combine with an outstanding performance from Xander Burger. It was too much for us to contain.”
Burger went on to find the back of the net two more times at the 71st and 76th-minute mark setting a historic five-goal effort in the championship game. The Pirates lost in a 6-2 finish.
“We competed all the way through and everyone gave their best, but unfortunately, we made too many mistakes,” Fansher said. “We knew going into it that we would have to be almost perfect as a team. We didn’t have our best day, and lots of credit (goes) to Whitefish because they punished us for our mistakes.”
“Overall, it was a great season. We had a lot of younger players step up and put in some big-time performances throughout the season,” Fansher said. “Our core group of seniors were outstanding all year, and we wish we could have kept them all on the field, but we had some unfortunate injury setbacks that we did well to work around and make it into the final.”
Whitefish 2 4 — 6
Polson 1 1 — 2
W – Xander Burger (Ian Lacey), 27:00
W – Burger (Casey Schneider), 30:00
P – Nico River (Bridger Wenzel), 33:00
W – Burger (Schneider), 41:00
P – Robin Erickson, 44:00
W – Lacey (penalty kick), 58:00
W – Burger, 71:00
W – Burger (Lacey), 76:00
Shots – Whitefish 14, Polson 11; Keeper saves – Whitefish 9 (Colter Upton), Polson 8 (Kaden Nelson); Corner kicks – Whitefish 8, Polson 2; Fouls – Whitefish 11, Polson 10.