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High School Sports

Lathrop boys take down defending champs in their state soccer debut

  • Author: Matt Nevala
  • Updated: May 24, 2018
  • Published May 24, 2018

The Lathrop Malemutes soccer team entered play Thursday night with no state-tournament pedigree.

In two frantic stretches roughly two minutes apart late in the second half, the team from Fairbanks created a memory for the ages by knocking off the two-time defending state champion South Wolverines.

Senior goalkeeper Reed Thomas solidified his shutout performance on one end of the picturesque Eagle River High School pitch before giving way to junior teammate Michael Steed on the other end.

Steed's goal in the 76th minute lifted Lathrop to a 1-0 victory over perennial powerhouse South in the Division I boys state championships' opening round.

Playing at state for the first time in school history, Lathrop advanced to a Friday semifinal match against Railbelt Conference rival Colony.

South's season will end Friday morning with a match against Service, which lost to West 5-4 on penalty kicks late Thursday night.

This season marks the first that soccer has been a two-classification sport. Schools with more than 851 students play in the six-team Division I bracket. Schools with fewer than 851 students play in the Division II field.

As play continues until champions are crowned Saturday at Service, the Malemutes tried to let what they accomplished sink in.

"Everything is a new experience," Thomas said. "Sure, everyone is stressed when it's a scoreless tie. But I think we did a good job of trusting each other as this one moved along."

Thomas proved himself quite trustworthy moments before his teammates broke the scoreless tie.

South senior defender Brock Stanley's free-kick blast from about 25 yards out rang hard off the crossbar and shot down hard to the turf. In a mass of players, the Wolverines fired a reactionary shot that looked destined to score. Somehow, Thomas managed to kick the ball out of harm's way with a flash of his left leg.

"It was more like my left shin," Thomas said. "When it hit the crossbar, I knew it was coming back down quickly. I also knew from being in similar situations that I was going to look up and see about five (opponents) around me trying to get whatever they can on the ball.

"I went towards it and hoped for the best."

Lathrop, which scored a 3-2 nonconference win over South 27 days earlier up in the Interior, took advantage of Thomas' goalkeeping heroics moments later.

Senior Zack Kosa and a few teammates chased down a long ball that rapidly approached South keeper Juan Ponce de Leon. As the players converged, the ball squirted loose to the left where Steed finished by touching it into the empty net.

For a moment, Steed thought about being altruistic.

"The ball was bouncing, moving pretty fast, so I was going to let it go because I didn't necessarily want to steal the goal," he said. "But then I saw one of South's players moving in and decided against it."

The scoreboard clock showed less than four minutes remaining after the goal, but that didn't include any stoppage time. Steed and his teammates tried to keep their emotions in check for those final moments.

"But my heart was pounding like I was having a heart attack," Steed said. "We knew we had to finish strong and not give up anything."

South's supremacy can't be understated. Since the school opened in 2004, the Wolverines have won seven state titles and finished second three times.

Stanley said the opening-round loss was just another bump in an uneven season.

"Earlier in the year, we really started growing as a team," he said. "This was kind of our final product and it could've ended better. But our season was all about learning, and we had our difficulties."

Lathrop can make more history Friday against Colony, which along with Dimond received a first-round bye.

"We're still the underdogs," said Thomas, who finished with six saves. "Other teams might not know exactly what to expect from us. Let's see what happens."

Division I

Thursday's matches

Lathrop 1, South 0

West 5, Service 4 (penalty kicks)

Friday's semifinals at Service High

1 p.m. — Lathrop vs. Colony

3 p.m. — West vs. Dimond

Friday's elimination match at Eagle River

9 a.m. — South vs. Service

Division II

Thursday's matches

Homer 5, Grace Christian 1

Juneau 5, Kodiak 2

Friday's semifinals at Service

9 a.m. — Homer  vs. Kenai

11 a.m. — Juneau vs. North Pole

Friday's elimination match at Eagle River

5 p.m. — Grace vs. Kodiak

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