History will once again be made at Pioneer Stadium.
On Friday night, the Stillwater High boys’ soccer team will host its first state quarterfinal contest. The Pioneers earned that right after beating Sand Springs, 3-2, at home Tuesday night in the first round of the Class 6A state tournament.
“First time hosting a quarterfinal ever,” SHS senior Ethan Hicks said. “We have such a young team, it’s just so exciting and I’m honored to be a part of the team. It’s a wonderful experience. I thought we played our hearts out today and it really showed on the field and on the scoreboard. We’re coming back Friday.”
The Pioneers (13-3) will host Edmond Memorial at 7 p.m. Friday on their home field. They won the district title last Friday and will host their second playoff game this week against a Memorial squad that defeated Owasso, 4-1, Tuesday night.
SHS coach Seth Condley admitted his team’s performance against Sand Springs wasn’t flawless, but it was enough to keep the season alive for at least one more game.
“I’m trying to digest that game,” Condley said. “It’s tournament time and you find a way to win. The first half was a really good game back and forth. The last 10-12 minutes were kind of ugly. We just kind of defended and we struggled a little bit. They’ve got eight seniors, I think, against our young team. You could tell the difference in the maturity they had in getting good balls in and good runs off the ball.”
Stillwater senior Christopher O’Neil increased his team’s lead less than eight minutes into the second half. After a nice pass ahead to O’Neil, he was left with a one-on-one with the keeper.
O’Neil finished the play with a shot from the left side of the goal into the net. It gave Stillwater a 3-1 advantage with 32:39 remaining in the game.
“We’ve played with each other for so long, we’ve built up such a good chemistry and we just know where we’re going to be,” Hicks said. “It’s just easy.”
Sand Springs answered for the second time on the night, trimming the lead to one goal with 13:24 left in the match. It came after a corner kick when the Sandites tried a quick pass instead of kicking toward the goal.
After a dribble, they passed across the field, where the Sand Springs player secured the ball and fired a shot into the net. It came after nearly 20 minutes of pressure from the Sandites’ offense.
“I’m more upset with that goal,” Condley said. “That’s just laziness on our part. We give up a corner and they play it in quick and we’re not even ready. We’re not even set. That is stuff that will get you beat and we have a pretty good team. We’ve got to be a little more focused come Friday night.”
The next 13 minutes were frantic as the Sandites tried to find the equalizer and Stillwater attempted to avoid allowing the game-tying goal. There were several shots on goal by both teams, but neither could add to the score.
Stillwater’s Uriah Kirby and Keke Abai nearly gave the Pioneers another two-goal lead, but just missed over the net. Meanwhile, the Sandites kept pushing, but the Pioneers held on for the victory.
“It was pretty intense, because they were really pounding on us,” Hicks said. “Once you get that adrenaline going when you’re down one goal, it’s intense. We came out on top and that’s all that matters.”
Stillwater took a 2-1 lead into the halftime break after each of its two captains recorded a goal and assist in the first 40 minutes. It was O’Neil who scored first.
Around 13 minutes left in the half, Hicks was dribbling along the end line with a defender draped over him when he passed the ball into the middle of the field about 10-15 yards in front of the goal. O’Neil was sprinting toward the ball, and he beat his defender to the ball before taking a shot without dribbling.
O’Neil’s shot flew into the net. He now has 18 goals on the season.
Less than seven minutes later, O’Neil repaid the favor to his senior teammate. He lobbed a short pass over the back line of the Sandites’ defense that seemed to freeze the defenders. Hicks tracked down the ball to give himself a one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Hicks used his left foot and kicked a shot into the lower right corner of the net. He gave the Pioneers a 2-1 lead with 6:24 left in the first half.
“I think they were trying to trap me and make me offsides,” Hicks said. “They couldn’t do it in time because I read their movement and I just right under Christopher’s ball and had an easy tap in.”
Sand Springs scored its first goal of the game in between the two Stillwater goals. The Sandites were dribbling the ball near two defenders near the goal, when there seemed to be a miscommunication between the Stillwater defenders and goalkeeper Kade Stevens as the easy shot rolled into he net.
“Our keeper called it and our center back dropped off, but he probably should have kept shielding a bit,” Condley said. “That’s a freshman and sophomore mistake in a big environment and huge crowd. That was probably a little jitters and inexperience in a big environment. We only have three guys who hav played in a playoff environment before and that’s Ethan, Uriah and Chris, and that was their freshman year.”
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