KEARNEY — Kearney High’s state soccer title defense hit a bump in the road Thursday night and the Bearcats will have to go on without one of their main scoring threats.
For the second consecutive year, Kearney High faced Millard West in a Class A District Championship game at KHS. The Bearcats fended off early pressure and controlled the second half to avoid the upset 4-2.
This is the fifth consecutive year the Bearcats have qualified for the state tournament and they are riding a 28-game winning streak dating back to last season.
“This was a really, really, really hard-fought and physical game,” Kearney coach Scott Steinbrook said. “I am just really proud of the way our guys battled physically. But we had to show some mental toughness as well.”
The Wildcats pressured the Bearcats in the opening minutes of Thursday’s game. They maintained the possession early until a defensive lapse allowed the Bearcats to grab the momentum.
Elliot Lebsack dribbled past the Wildcats’ last line of defense and deflected the ball away from goalie Samuel Fedde. The ball landed in the back of the net, but Fedde landed on Lebsack’s foot. Lebsack, Kearney’s third-leading scorer, left the game about six minutes in with what later was revealed on social media as two broken bones in his leg.
Although they lost a starting attacker, the Bearcats rallied and added to their lead.
In the 15th minute, Fedde ran into Kearney’s Carson Elstermeier in the 18-yard box. The referee issued Fedde a red card, giving the Bearcats a penalty kick against the Wildcats’ backup goalie.
Royce Austin lined up for the penalty kick and fooled goalie Cody Fuller for a goal.
“If you get that first goal, that really sets the tone,” Steinbrook said. “I thought the guys really rallied.”
Millard West’s Braedan Evans chipped a shot over goalie Jacob Hardy’s head to end the shutout bid with about 15 minutes left in the first half.
Playing with a backup goalie and down one player on the field caught up to the Wildcats in the second half, though.
AJ Faz scored back-to-back goals to stretch the Bearcats’ lead to 4-1 in the first 13 minutes of the half.
Caden Tubaugh cut into the Bearcats’ advantage with a goal in the 54th minute.
The Bearcats finished with 11 shots on goal compared to the Wildcats’ seven.
“Being up 2-1, we know that we are up, but in the locker room it just feels like we are down,” Faz said. “We feel like we should have more. We came back in the second half and had the mentality that it was tied. And just had to come back out and keep going.”