Wolves sneak past Federal Way

On the bus ride over to Sumner’s Sunset Chev Stadium before Saturday’s West Central District soccer match against Federal Way, South Kitsap coach Eric Bergeson had but one question for freshman forward Kaitlin Myles.

The topic was penalty kicks and the query was easy yet direct: “Are you going to make it when you get in there?”

Her answer of yes was short but telling as a few hours later Myles put in what turned out to be the deciding score in a 1-0 shootout win over the Eagles that sent South Kitsap to a fourth-straight trip to the Class 4A state tournament.

The Wolves, 13-2-4, play Redmond at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Silverdale Stadium in Silverdale in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs. Federal Way finished its season at 11-3-4.

Relying on the stellar play of its defense, the Wolves, who were outplayed for most of the game’s first 80 minutes, advanced by out-shooting Federal Way 4-3 as Myles snuck the final shot past Eagle goalie Chelsea White.

“I always go to the same spot,” a smiling Myles said after the game. “I was just thinking to myself to just get it there and it will be fine.”

Myles said the team worked hard on penalty kicks all week, showing up before practice and staying late. Some even practiced while waiting for the bus to pick them up for the game.

All the work paid off as Maria Smith, Kelsey Penn, Cassi Brown and Myles scored during the shootout. It was a youth movement of sorts as a sophomore, Penn, a junior, Brown, and a freshman, Myles, got it done.

“Some people might think putting a freshman in there is about what she did all season,” Bergeson said. “It’s what she did this week. She went in there and every single time, she made the penalty kick. She steps up and makes it.

“I didn’t see anyone that looked nervous, they looked calm,” Bergeson said. “And the last thing I told them was we were going to the state tournament because we have Alicia Cleaver.”

It was Cleaver, the team’s senior goalkeeper, that made a pair of stops during the shootout to ensure the Wolves’ victory.

“I don’t like taking PKs, but I’m confident in taking them,” Cleaver said. “The pressure is there and the pressure is what gets me going … I know I have to get under control and make some saves.”

Cleaver, who now has 12 shutouts this season, skillfully corralled the first try she saw from FD’s Kaitlyn Keyes to set a tone. Standing firm in the middle of net with her arms outstretched and even looking a bit like the Karate Kid about to unleash the Crane Technique on her opponents, she knocked away the final shot to set up Myles heroics.

Despite being tested the whole game, Cleaver said stopping PKs is much different that playing in the game. She said just focusing on the ball and the direction the opponent’s hips turned as they shoot tells her all she needs to know.

“If you watch a players eyes, they will try to throw you off every time,” Cleaver said. “The hips and the ball, they don’t lie to you.”

It was the South defense that kept the team in the game, dodging shot after shot but always making the necessary play to keep Federal Way off the board while waiting for the offense to get going. But that never happened as the Wolves mounted just a few runs at the Eagles’ goal and got off just one solid shot.

“I don’t think it was our best game but we came out on top,” Myles said. “The defense was awesome and Cleaver was really great, especially on the corners.”

Federal Way kept up the pressure and had its chances but Cleaver was there each and every time to turn the Eagles away.

“We just knew that they were not going to score,” senior defender Stephanie Milne said. “My confidence in Cleaver is … over the roof. I can’t even explain my confidence in Cleaver.”

After pitching a shutout for 80 minutes, Cleaver and the defense got the Wolves through the two five-minute overtime periods to set up the thrilling finish. Despite its less than inspired play, South was confident of a win.

“We go into the huddle (before the shootout) and we’re not even worried about PKs because we have Alicia Cleaver,” defender Lauren Kruzner said. “She always comes up big, she’s amazing. She knows when to step it up and what to do.”

With his defense playing so well and an injury that kept senior forward Randee Robinson out of the second half, Bergeson relied on his defenders to get the team through the game.

“That’s part of why we didn’t strive offensively either,” Bergeson said. “We were playing conservative. I wasn’t going to start taking wild chances. I figured if it goes to penalty kicks, we worked our butts off all week on penalty kicks.”

Bergeson’s penalty-kick lineup has changed each day after practice due to the girls’ performance and approach. And a lot of it had to do with the mental aspect of penalty kicks.

The third-year coach even pulled out one of his favorite Julius Caesar quotes in a speech at last week’s practice, the one that states that cowards die many times before their actual death.

“I was talking about dying on the inside whenever you don’t take a chance,” Bergeson said. “Don’t worry about what the result is because in penalty kicks, it’s a silly way to decide a game and any coach will tell you that, but don’t spend you life having regret.

“So I told them I needed seniors that would step up and shoulder the burden whether they’re going to score or not,” Bergeson said. “If you miss the shot, you’re already forgiven. So if you’re ready, step up for your team.”

That they did, even though it might have taken the entire game until it happened.

“It was a tie - they played us to a tie,” Bergeson said. “We didn’t do anything better than they did except make one more penalty kick. Federal Way deserves to be in the state tournament as much as we do. They earned it and we were just fortunate.

“But you take what you can get,” Bergeson said. “You celebrate, because we certainly played our hearts out too. It’s nice to have a game that’s not your best game and still make your way into the state tournament.”

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