WEST DES MOINES — If there’s a soccer team that knows about heartbreak, it’s Cedar Rapids Xavier.
Ending a season once on a penalty kick shootout is tough enough. Having it happen a second time doubles the pain. But a third time? That’s downright cruel.
Xavier lost to Spencer, 2-1, in a shootout last night in the first round of the Class 2A state tournament, the third straight time the Saints’ season has ended in that emotion-sapping manner.
“A PK can go either way,” said junior Charlie Bales, who scored Xavier’s only goal. “It’s not really soccer. Unfortunately, it’s the third year our season has ended like that. It’s really a tough way to go out.”
Two years ago, Xavier lost to Norwalk 1-0 on penalty kicks in the state semifinals, the Saints’ only loss that season. Last year, they were beaten by Iowa City Regina, 2-1, on penalty kicks in the substate final.
“I wish there was a better way to settle soccer matches,” Xavier Coach Amir Hadzic said. “It was an evenly played match. We matched up with them well. If the game went either way, it wouldn’t have been a surprise.”
Spencer made all three of its kicks in the extra session and goalie Kyle Fitch blocked two shots to secure the victory.
After Spencer (17-1) converted two kicks to Xavier’s one, Fitch dove right to stop Alex Seaman’s shot, then ended Xavier’s last hope by diving left to block a kick by Saints goalie Clayton Lynch.
“I just kind of guessed,” Fitch said. “That’s all you can do, really. We lost last year in a PK to Norwalk, so you could say that justice served us.”
If so, Xavier is still looking for its justice, though for a while, it appeared the Saints finally would find it.
They were the aggressors in the first half and took a 1-0 lead when Bales was given a penalty kick with 11:24 left in the half and buried the ball in the left corner of the net, the same spot he found when he made Xavier’s only kick in the shootout.
Spencer didn’t get its first shot on goal until nearly 10 minutes had elapsed, but the Tigers picked up their play in the last 10 minutes of the opening half and continued the momentum in the second half, tying the score when Alex Toay drew Lynch out of the net and slipped the ball past him at the 25:37 mark.
The Saints held the rest of the way they and had the ball at Spencer’s end for most of the two overtime periods. Bales had a penalty kick with 4:14 left in the second overtime, but the ball sailed high and hit the crossbar.
“I thought we outplayed them in the overtime,” he said. “We kept the pressure on them. We just couldn’t finish.”
The game got a little chippy in the second half. Five Spencer players received yellow cards and Bales missed the first overtime after getting yellow carded when he got tangled up with the Tigers’ B.J. Cardell with 32.7 seconds left in regulation. Cardell also drew a yellow card.
Toay, one of the state’s top scorers, also missed the first overtime after getting a yellow card with 5.1 seconds remaining in regulation.
“Pretty much every time I had the ball, I was getting hammered,” Bales said. “It was frustrating watching from the sidelines. I was just trying to cheer my teammates on and encourage them.”
Hadzic said it was just a physical game.
“And then when you get in this environment with all the fans, it’s diffcult,” he said. “But I thought it was even. They were very consistent in the way they called the game.”
If only the Saints could have found a way to call up one more goal.
“We practice PKs many times during the season,” Hadzic said. “Being a player for 20 years and then a coach, it’s really a lottery. Sometimes they go in for you and sometimes they don’t. It’s really too bad one of these teams had to go out this way.”