Platte County junior forward Rylee Burris walks back toward midfield as Kearney celebrates a second goal in Wednesday's Class 3 District 8 semifinal Wednesday at Pembroke Hill High School in Kansas City. ROSS MARTIN/PC Preps Extra

Platte County unable to spring 2nd upset in Class 3 District 8 play

Kearney comes up with 2 late goals of otherwise even semifinal matchup in 3rd matchup between rivals this season.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Platte County went deep into the second half Wednesday night with a chance to spring a second straight upset over a rival and extend the season.

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Platte County junior goalkeeper Finley Kaser goes down to try and stop a shot against Kearney in Wednesday’s Class 3 District 8 semifinal at Pembroke Hill High School in Kansas City.

Second-seeded Kearney spent the majority of the Class 3 District semifinal unable to break down the Pirates’ rejuvenated and organized defense. However, the Bulldogs struck twice late in the proceedings to come away with a 2-0 victory and scoreline not indicative of the competitive nature of the matchup at Pembroke Hill High School.

Platte County (9-11) entered a convolutedly seeded bracket as the No. 6 seed and saw a consistently promising season come to an end in the district semifinals for a second straight year.

“We were pretty even,” Platte County coach Ashlyn Brantley said. “I feel like our first half, we came out a little stronger, owning the game a little bit more so. That second half, we started letting them into it a little more, and they were putting more pressure on us. They created more opportunities. That’s what it was — the small little mistakes.

“(Kearney) capitalized on their opportunities, and we didn’t.”

Platte County junior goalkeeper Finley Kaser made five saves but couldn’t fully redirect a shot from Kearney sophomore Josie Sparks on a quick-strike opportunity in the 64th minute to break a scoreless tie. Kaser tried to punch away the hard-hit shot in a one-on-one situation, but the ball caromed behind her and into the net.

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Platte County senior midfielder Marissa Orellana looks for space against Kearney in a Class 3 District 8 semifinal Wednesday at Pembroke Hill High School in Kansas City.

Kearney (11-10) settled in during the second half to gain more possession, but the two teams mostly went end-to-end with few clear-cut chances either way.

Platte County came right back after going down 1-0 and nearly produced an equalizer in the 68th minute. Off of a corner kick rom junior midfielder Brooklynne Jenni, Pirates junior attacking midfielder Lily Kytasaari pushed a header on target with a Kearney defender forced to clear the shot off the line. Bulldogs freshman goalkeeper Mallyrie Schwab-Wetzel then recovered and scooped up the loose ball before senior midfielder Marissa Orellana could muster a rebound with any power.

“There were just so many legs in there,” Brantley said. “You couldn’t tell which ones were ours and which ones were theirs. We were just hoping someone would get it in.”

Kearney eventually doubled the lead in the 79th minute with Kaser forced to come off her line, only for Sparks to touch around her and tap into an empty net for the second, game-sealing goal.

Platte County entered off of a dramatic upset of third-seeded Smithville two days earlier when Kytasaari produced an equalizer late in the second half. After the two teams finished regulation and two halves of 15-minute, sudden-death overtime tied at 1-1, the Pirates dominated the penalty kick shootout to avenge a regular season loss and advance.

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Platte County junior midfielder Lily Kytasaari hits a pass during a Class 3 District 8 semifinal against Kearney on Wednesday at Pembroke Hill High School in Kansas City.

Kearney won two prior matchups with Platte County ahead of the semifinal meeting.

The first came during an 0-4 start to the season for Platte County, and the second came in the middle of the North Kansas City Tournament. The Pirates came back from that semifinal loss to briefly have a .500 record at 6-6.

A district victory against Kearney would have put Platte County back at .500, and the Pirates enjoyed the better chances in the first half. In the 16th minute, Kytasaari, who became the focal point and best creator on offense this season, broke down the left side and found junior forward Rylee Burris in the middle of the box.

Burris took a touch before firing a shot that ended up blocked.

In the 25th minute, Platte County saw the best two opportunities to take the lead go wanting. Kytasaari overwhelmed a Kearney defender before putting an attempt on target, and Schwab-Wetzel’s save parried the shot away. A rebound fell to freshman forward/midfielder Amela Dzilic at the back post, but she sent the followup well over the bar.

Schwab-Wetzel made two more saves in the 26th minute, first tipping a dangerous free kick from Jenni out of bounds and then stopping a header from Kytasaari off the ensuing corner kick. She scrambled to collect the loose ball before Pirates’ junior midfielder Carissa Bacon could poke home a rebound.

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Platte County junior midfielder Brooklynne Jenni controls a loose ball against Kearney in a Class 3 District 8 semifinal Wednesday at Pembroke Hill High School in Kansas City.

“It was right there,” Brantley said. “Rylee’s (chance), Amela had that one, it was frustrating we didn’t get them in but still good at the time because we were creating opportunities. We were putting pressure on them and creating those opportunities, whether it was getting in behind, getting corners.”

Platte County went scoreless for just the sixth time this season with an offense dependent on varied contributions from Burris and Kytasaari plus a rotating group of midfielders including Jenni, Orellana, Bacon, Dzilic, senior Addison Sloan and sophomore Saige Dickens. However, the Pirates attempted to fit Jenni into more of a defensive role early while trying to find a replacement for junior Giada Cucchiara, who missed all of this season while continuing to recover from surgery on a torn ACL suffered in the offseason.

Eventually, Platte County put freshman Mila Cucchiara into the starting lineup to allow Jenni more freedom to contribute to the attack. The Pirates were starting to see success from the change with senior Alex Beeman and junior Madison Palmer forming the central defense with freshman Caroline Linn and senior Kaelyn Bellach on the outside.

However, injuries to junior right back Annabel Beeman (foot) and Bacon (head) hurt the consistency in the closing stretch, which saw Platte County drop four of six to finish the regular season. Both returned to the lineup in reserve roles, while Alex Beeman notably played some of the best soccer in her four years as a significant contributor in the two district games.

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Platte County senior defender Alex Beeman hits a clearance against Kearney in a Class 3 District 8 semifinal Wednesday at Pembroke Hill High School in Kansas City.

“We’ve improved throughout the season,” Brantley said. “We were working on a lot of things, and to end up where we are and coming off the field the way that we did, we’re proud of this team and the opportunities we created. Hopefully going into next season, they understand this and that some of them might have to step up a little more and making that connection that we didn’t quite get to this season.”

Van Horn (20-4) ended up with the top seed in Class 2 District 8 but lost 5-1 to host fifth-seeded Pembroke Hill in Wednesday’s second semifinal. The Raiders (9-11) — a 3-0 winner over No. 4 Lincoln Prep (11-4-1) in the first round — then captured the district title with a 4-1 win in Friday’s district championship game.

Platte County’s 2023 season ended with a loss to Pembroke Hill in the semifinal round, and Smithville went on to earn a second straight playoff and eventually final fourth berth, finishing as state runnerup.

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