Platte County fired off a barrage of shots late, but the deficit in place could not be overcome.
Fourth-seeded and upset-minded Guadalupe Centers continued an impressive postseason run with a 3-1 victory Wednesday night at Pirate Stadium in the Class 3 District 8 championship game. The Aztecs knocked off No. 1 seed Pembroke Hill in a contentious semifinal decided by penalty kicks before scoring the first three goals of the championship to knock off No. 2 seed Platte County, which finished an impressive season at 20-4 but came up one win short of a coveted return to the playoffs with a senior-heavy and experienced roster.
In 2019, Platte County reached the Class 3 state championship game and finished as runnerup to conclude the best season in program history and returned the talent hopeful of earning the fifth district title in program history. Instead, Guadalupe Centers reversed the result of a 3-0 loss to the Pirates in a regular season matchup back in late September.
“That is not the way you want it to end,” Platte County coach Ashlyn Brantley said. “Things change. It is always hard to beat a team twice or three times, no matter how many times you play them. They have changed, and we have changed from then. We can’t go in expecting to win. They came out on top because they played a better game.”
Platte County fell behind 3-0 with less than 15 minutes remaining and didn’t break the shutout until the 75th minute when sophomore forward Gavin Nichols buried a shot from about 30 yards out. Still needing two goals to force overtime, the Pirates continued to apply pressure, and a controversial moment less than a minute after their opener nearly provided new life.
A Platte County header created a crowded scene in front of the Guadalupe Centers goal, and the Aztecs’ goalkeeper and a defender combined for a clearance off the line despite appeals that the ball crossed the line. Instead, the deficit remained at 3-1, and the Pirates final three shots were also turned away as time ran out in the game and on the season.
“We can look at certain pictures and videos, and it may look different,” Brantley said of the possible second goal. “That would’ve made more of a difference than (being down) 1-0 at half. That one right there, even with 4½ minutes left, the pressure we put on them, it could’ve been a game changer.”
Platte County had not allowed more than two goals in any game this season, and 18 of the Pirates’ wins were by shutout. The three-man backline of seniors Sawyer Allen, Isaac Havemeier and Spencer Hay plus senior holding midfielder Luke Bunge anchored a new-look 3-5-2 formation this season in front of senior goalkeeper Patrick Sullivan, a standout in just his third year ever playing soccer.
However, Platte County entered the game having faced challenging circumstances down the stretch. The Pirates lost a group of key players in the final week of the season due to COVID protocols, and junior starting midfielder Joseph Ibarra and junior reserve forward Felix Victor remained out for the championship game.
In addition, Platte County senior midfielder Nathan Macaluso, who missed one game with a broken foot suffered Oct. 19 against Ruskin, picked up a red card in the second half of a 3-1 district semifinal win over Smithville two days earlier and missed the game due to suspension.
Guadalupe Centers (11-6) employed a few players who were not available in the first matchup and looked much more dangerous on offense this time around. The Aztecs took an important 1-0 lead in the final minute of the first half.
After clearing away a Platte County corner kick, Guadalupe Center’s Javier Bustillos scored on a breakaway off of swift transition play that created a counterattack opportunity. In the final 28 seconds before halftime, Platte County earned a free kick after a tackle that injured junior reserve forward Josh Nelson, but the Pirates couldn’t create a shot off the late set piece.
“I don’t think (the halftime deficit) made that much of a difference,” Brantley said. “We will still come out with the same mentality. Our guys don’t quit, and when we have been down, if anything, it gives us more motivation.”
Platte County created the first chance in the second half, but Guadalupe Centers doubled its advantage in the 46th minute through Said Alvardo Vazquez scored in the 46th minute. The Pirates were then forced to chase down 2-0.
Guadalupe Centers continued to hold strong on defense, and two Platte County headers in the 18-yard box were the best chances for the Pirates to draw closer. The Aztecs deflected the first away and the second went over the crossbar without forcing a save.
In the 61st minute, Guadalupe Centers saved a shot from Platte County senior midfielder Calvin Forrester and a dangerous free kick from Havemeier.
“We had chances and their keeper made really good saves, and they had chances too,” Brantley said. “I think it was going back and forth, and once we got the ball down and kept it, we had a few more chances to play the way we wanted.”
Sullivan made a key save for Platte County in the 64th minute to keep the score at 2-0, but Guadalupe Centers came up the third goal on another piece of transition play off of a set piece. Havemeier took another shot off of a foul, and less than a minute later, Luckyboy Turley placed a shot inside the right post and past Sullivan in the 66th minute to put the Aztecs up 3-0. The Pirates’ last flurry came too late.
Bunge, Havemeier and Allen started the 2019 title game, while Macaluso, Forrester and Ibarra appeared as reserves.
Five of those players are among the 12 seniors on this roster that were part of a COVID-abbreviated 11-6 followup campaign in 2020 to the state runnerup finish. They opened this season with 10 straight victories — all by shutout — and went on to win 2 of 3 vs. rival with a regular season split of 1-0 results resulting in a shared Suburban Conference Blue Division title.
In the third meeting, Platte County’s win over the Warriors locked up just the second 20-win season in program history Sullivan recorded 18 clean sheets, and the Pirates allowed just nine goals all season (0.4 goals per game). Bunge, Havemeier, Hay, Sullivan, Macaluso, Forrester and forward Palmer Boekhout were mainstay senior starters, while midfielders Cody Green, Tyler Bean, Jake Kingery and forward/midfielder Mitchell Kelley played key roles off the bench while being forced into more prominent roles due to injuries and COVID protocols in the final seven games of the season.
Brantley mentioned she recently looked at the team photo in her classroom from the second-place state finish after an overtime loss to Rockwood Summit and seeing so many of the ‘baby-faced’ players that had just played their last game for the Pirates.
“We had an awesome senior class, and the seniors have left their mark in the school and program and they had major accomplishments that some guys that left here never accomplished,” Brantley said. “They definitely made a difference and we will miss them.”