METROPOLIS — Kelsyn Fricker sank to his knees as time expired Wednesday.
The Harrisburg junior came this close to forcing extra time in the Bulldogs’ Class 1A Massac County regional semifinal, only to be denied by Freeburg goalie Tino Borja with a sprawling save.
Borja’s goal kick just seconds later was as much out of celebration as it was to follow the rules. Time expired as the ball hit the squishy turf at Metropolis Soccer Complex, finalizing the Midgets’ 2-1 win that ended Harrisburg’s turnaround season at 11-9-2.
“It’s a flip of the coin, I guess,” said Bulldogs coach Jared Butler. “It’s hard to tell who the better team was when we have as many chances as they did. I’m proud of them … after not winning a game last year and coming this far, you can only be proud.”
Fifth-seeded Harrisburg went from 0-15 to a winning team in just months behind an attack that averaged nearly four goals per game. But aside from Jack Winters’ equalizer in the 52nd minute, the Bulldogs couldn’t officially find the back of the net.
That rankled Butler somewhat. Winters appeared to give Harrisburg an early lead when he beat Borja from the top of the box in the 13th minute, but the Bulldogs’ celebration was muted when a linesmen’s flag signaled they were offsides.
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“It was questionable; I don’t think he was offsides,” Butler said. “The guy stepped out of the play and the guy who finished it came back into the play.”
Which meant that neither team finished in the first half. It wasn’t that Freeburg (13-9-1) didn’t have chances. But the Midgets failed to convert any of about a half-dozen point-blank looks, and only one required a save by Harrisburg goalie Jesus Aboyte.
Freeburg missed the net on at least five other occasions, enabling the Bulldogs to go into intermission with a scoreless draw. Given Butler’s assessment that Harrisburg has been a second half team all year, it had to feel good about its chances.
However, Midgets captain Bryce Loesche solved his team’s finishing issues with an educated right foot. Loesche blew a free kick between the right post and Aboyte five minutes into the second half for the day’s first goal.
After Winters scored, the Bulldogs appeared to carry the play for most of the next 20 minutes. At worst, it looked like they might get a chance at overtime, where their speed might have generated against an opponent that was vulnerable to counterattacks.
But Freeburg got a set piece off a corner kick in the 76th minute. Loesche soared into the air at the right post to head the kick into the net, putting Harrisburg into chase mode.
“We were right there with them,” Butler said. “I just hope the boys stay hungry. We lose three or four seniors, but we have a lot of key players coming back for next year.”
The fourth-seeded Midgets make another long trip to Massac County for Saturday’s regional final against top-seeded Althoff Catholic. Althoff opened what it hopes will be a long postseason run Tuesday by waxing Mount Carmel 8-2.