Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
St. Mary's boys soccer coach Paul Coughlin didn't like what he saw in the first half, and he let the Crusaders know about it at the break.
"There comes a time as a coach when you've got to call a spade a spade," Coughlin said of his halftime speech, "and you've got to open things up and you've got to let them know, 'You've got 40 minutes left' and if they continued to play like that I don't know what was going to happen."
They didn't, and what happened was another blowout for the Crusaders, who were deadlocked 1-1 at halftime.
Adrian Becerra scored two goals, including the tiebreaker early in the second half, and Reid Arne added a goal and an assist as No. 2-ranked St. Mary's overpowered 18th-ranked Portland Christian 7-1 in the first round of the Class 3A/2A/1A state playoffs Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Park.
The Royals, the No. 2 team out of District 2, ended the season with a 6-9 record.
The Crusaders (13-1) next take their seven-game winning streak into a state quarterfinal match Saturday against Westside Christian (13-3), which has won five in a row, including Tuesday's 4-1 victory over Corbett. St. Mary's will host.
St. Mary's outshot Portland Christian 8-3 in the first half but only capitalized once when Harrison Leep tracked down a perfect cross from Arne and connected from close range to make it 1-0 in the seventh minute.
Eight minutes later, Portland Christian's Jess Cayetano punched home the equalizer off lob pass in the box.
The Crusaders' attack produced five shots on goal over the next 25 minutes, but they were denied each time. The near misses included three spectacular saves by Royals keeper Austin Rogers.
That set the stage for what figured to be a competitive, tense second half. But it wasn't.
Becerra scored off a Victor Hu assist only 1 minute, 17 seconds into the second half, and 17 minutes later, in the game's second key momentum shift, Rogers was ejected after picking up a red card on a foul in the box.
Becerra easily converted the penalty kick to put the Crusaders up 3-1, and they added another penalty kick two minutes later by Arne to bury the Royals.
"I just think the energy was there," Arne said of St. Mary's second-half surge. "We had a good talk in the locker room and then we just came out at half ready to play and move."
Garrett Coughlin, junior varsity call-up Nathan Hoyt and Avery Kerwin tacked on insurance goals for St. Mary's, which has scored seven goals or more in seven of its last 10 games.
Paul Coughlin said Becerra's goal to start the second half gave the Crusaders the spark they needed. They wound up outshooting Portland Christian 14-1 in the second half.
"That really broke it open," he said. "It got our blood going again."
It was a hustle play by Leep that led to Rogers' ejection. Leep jumped to body block a clearance attempt about 30 yards down field, then recovered in time to gather the ball and charge ahead of the defense toward Rogers. The Royals' keeper, who picked up a yellow card for arguing with the referee following the first goal of the second half, raced up to cut off Leep's angle and broke up the play with a hard slide tackle.
As soon as the whistle blew, Rogers knew what it meant.
"I looked at the side ref and I looked at the other ref, and I was like, 'I think I'm getting a red card,'" he said. "I believe I got a toe on the ball and it went to the right. I may have made contact with him — I don't believe I did."
Rogers added that St. Mary's was worthy of a high seed.
"They were probably the best challenge we've had," he said.
Royals' coach Tony Collopy agreed, but said losing Rogers was a huge letdown.
"Let me put it this way," he said, "look how even the first half was. And then the whole momentum changed on that play. But that's soccer. Not to take away from St. Mary's — they're a very good soccer team. We've seen them for three years and they play soccer the right way "… the way it's supposed to be played."