AURORA — Experience played a big part in Air Academy’s 2-1 victory over Lewis-Palmer in the boys Class 4A soccer semifinals Wednesday night.
A fortunate bounce with just over two minutes left in regulation didn’t hurt the Kadets, either.
Mason Shandy’s pinball goal at 77:58 broke a 1-1 tie and sent Air Academy, winners of the last two state championships, to the finals for the third-straight season.
A direct kick by Thaddeus Dewing of the Kadets was rejected by a Lewis-Palmer wall late in the contest.
Dewing managed to regain possession and sent the ball back into the box. Adin Schwenke put a shot on goal that bounced in Shandy’s vicinity, and he banged home the game-winner.
“I was just kind of right place, right time,” Shandy confessed. “I was really thankful that Thad put that second ball in after hitting the wall with his first (kick). Adin went up for a nice challenge and it just bounced right in my way. I felt like it was a team goal.”
Shandy, a junior, is now three-for-three in semifinal wins with Air Academy.
“It never gets old,” he revealed. “Just the entire playoff run is so much fun. I am just so thankful we can go all the way again and experience all five games every year.
“I’m really excited for Saturday,” Shandy added. “It should be a lot of fun.
The Kadets tied the game 13:47 into the second half on powerful strike by Schwenke after a pretty pass from Dewing.
“There was a nice lay-off by Thad to Adin … two of our seniors,” said Air Academy head coach Espen Hosoien. “It was a really nice goal.”
Lewis-Palmer scored first at 5:59 of the first half when Tyler Prichard launched a long ball towards the net from more than 40 yards away. The ball eluded Kadet goalkeeper Travis Tygart, and the Rangers had an early 1-0 lead.
But Air Academy continued to play tough and created several chances throughout the rest of the game.
“Everybody just fought their hardest,” said Schwenke. “We were down 1-0 last year, too. We don’t panic. We keep playing the way coach has taught us to play every year. Just get the ball where we need it to go, get goals and go do what we need to do. Everybody just works their hardest; that’s the biggest thing for us.”
“There was no panic,” Hosoien added. “These guys have been through it before. We played three tough games to get here (to the semifinals). It’s not like we haven’t been tested.
“We always talk about playing the full game, regardless,” he added. A goal scored in the 78th minute is just as good as a goal scored in the fifth minute. It’s even better if it’s the winning goal.”
(3) Skyview 1, (2) Golden 0
Skyview goalkeeper Brian Fierro was the big hero Wednesday night at Legacy Stadium.
Fierro made a diving stop of a penalty kick by Golden’s Joaquin Garfias with one minute left in the game, and the Wolverines escaped with a 1-0 win in the 4A boys soccer semifinals.
Skyview will now play two-time defending champion Air Academy in the title game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
After the game, Fierro gave an assist to someone special in his life.
“I’ve got to give credit to my Dad,” said a smiling Fierro. “He has been teaching me how to guess (correctly) on the penalties. He always tells me to go to my left, so I did.”
Luis Reyes put the Wolverines on the board first when he took a pass from teammate Roger Ibarra and sent the ball into the lower corner of the goal 5:37 into the second half.
“I had the ball out wide, and played it into Roger, one of our better players on our team,” said Reyes of his game-winning tally. “I made a run (towards the front of the goal), and I just knew he was going to find me. We have such a good connection. Once I hit it I knew I was going to score because I have been practicing that shot for a long time. It’s the best feeling.”
It’s a scene that’s all-too familiar to Skyview head coach Justin Thomas.
“Luis got the ball in the box and made a great turn,” he said. “I have so much confidence when he has the ball on his feet in the box. That goal was just pure Luis: turn, shoot … and he always finds the back of the net. He’s a very skilled player, he’s very smart and I’m just really proud that he was able to score for us. We needed it.”
Golden had several chances to equalize as the half went on, but their shots were either just wide, off the post or crossbar or saved by Fierro.
“After we scored the goal we had so much momentum but I give a lot of props to their team because they didn’t stop fighting,” Reyes added. “But we have a team that never stops fighting as well. And we also have a great goalkeeper. I have so much confidence in Brian. Before the penalty, I knew he was going to block it.”
Thomas wasn’t surprised, either.
“Brian has just gotten better and better for us each year,” he added. “Last year we got knocked out in the quarterfinals in the ninth round of PKs. I knew going into this year that practicing penalties would be a big thing for us to do. So we have been taking penalties at the end of every practice since we got our seed in the playoffs. Brian has seen hundreds of shots in the last two weeks.
“I had confidence that if he picked right, he would make the save.”