Isai Gutierrez jumps on Eduardo Moreno's back after Moreno scored the first goal Saturday in the state championship against Stilwell Blue Valley Saturday in Kansas City. Liberal won 3-1. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
Leader & Times
KANSAS CITY — Liberal Redskin fans were in no hurry to travel the seven hours back to Liberal Saturday in Kansas City.
After starting the season 2-5 with little hope for a return to the state tournament, fans and players were enjoying a state championship victory until the Kansas City Piper officials had to close down the field.
Still, fans lingered, taking pictures, hugging players and feeling the relief of coming so close so many times and falling short.
Not this time.
After a decade of knocking on the door of a state championship, LIberal kicked it in Saturday with a 3-1 win over Stilwell Blue Valley.
“I told them at halftime that this was their chance to go out and finish it strong,” Liberal soccer coach Lori Navarro said. “They did it, and not only for this team but for all the teams before. For 14 years we’ve been trying to win this game.”
Navarro, the only head coach in the 14-year history of the program, had her team in the state championship before only to finish second three times. She had three third place finishes and a fourth.
Finally, she put a crowning jewel on one of the most successful soccer programs in Kansas with a state title.
The victory could have been in doubt when Blue Valley scored a goal with 15:58 to play in the first half, but the Tigers were called offsides and the goal was disallowed.
Both teams had chances in the first half, but neither scored.
In the first three minutes of the second half, Eduardo Moreno broke loose crossing the front of the gaol and was able to get the ball past Stilwell standout goalie Evan Wright.
With 19:57 to go, Moreno gave the Redskins a two-goal lead with a pass from Isai Gutierrez.
Blue Valley continued to push, but Liberal’s Ricardo Castro denied two golden opportunities for the Tigers. But Cole McCubbin took a shot from 25 yards out and hit the goal to narrow the score to 2-1 with 13:23 to play.
“He shot it from way out,” Castro said. “It was unexpected.”
But the play of the game occurred when Liberal started with possession after the Tiger goal.
Liberal started with a tip kick, and a Tiger rushed into the circle and collided with a Liberal player. The Tigers looked to the officials to call a foul on the play, but the official shook his head. While the Tigers continued to complain to the officials, Liberal past the ball upfield to Misael Moncayo. Moncayo attacked the goal from the right side and kicked the ball past Wright only 15 seconds after Blue Valley’s goal to restore Liberal’s two-goal lead, 3-1.
“I got a pass from (Gutierrez), and I was thinking about passing for an assist,” Moncayo said. “BUt then I saw it and thought I better score.”
Blue Valley struggled to maintain their composure after the goal, and one Tiger received a yellow card.
Liberal played keep away the final 13 minutes, and the frustration continued to mount for the Tigers. In the final 17 seconds, two Tigers were red carded including goalie Wright.
As the final seconds ticked off, a different emotion was sweeping across the field for the Redskins — a sense of victory in the state championship, something that eluded them a year ago.
Tears flowed as players and coaches hugged each other, then hoisted the Class 5A Boys Soccer trophy into the cool breeze. Liberal had earned its first soccer championship and the schools first state title in any sport since 2004’s boy’s track title.
“This feels amazing,” Navarro said. “It was definitely God’s grace. We believed in our hearts, and this was no miracle. It was a greater power that let them believe.”