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Whitefish advances to State A soccer championship for fifth-straight year

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | October 27, 2021 1:00 AM

The Bulldogs entered into their semifinal playoff game Saturday with a focus of playing clean, precise soccer while making close to zero mistakes — and that’s exactly what they accomplished with a 3-0 win over Park.

In a match earlier this season, the Whitefish boys found themselves down multiple times to Park and head coach John Lacey recalls it was due to a good team capitalizing on the Bulldogs mistakes.

“Good teams, like Park, will punish mistakes and they did (in the first game),” Lacey said. “This time going in aware that our mistakes could put us in a hole, we were just a lot sharper.

“Everybody played well on the backline, particularly up and down the middle with Willem Gray and Niko Hunter, and then Will Peppmeier as the last guy in front of the net… But the main thing is we played mistake-free soccer and that’s a really important thing.”

With the win the Bulldogs move to 14-0 for the season and advance to the Class A boys soccer championship.

Whitefish senior midfielder Chase Sabin was the first to find the back of the net in the 26th minute. The Bulldogs then added another goal to go up 2-0 before the end of the first half when Sabin assisted fellow senior Gabe Menicke on a goal.

The Bulldogs held the two-goal lead until Menicke added another score in the 63rd minute to further extend the Whitefish advantage. Park had chances to score, but the Whitefish defense held them off to take the 3-0 win.

Whitefish had 10 shots on goal to Park’s six. Bulldog goalkeeper Will Peppmeier secured the shutout after making six key saves.

“I thought our defense did a great job putting up another shutout, Will Peppmeier had a couple outstanding saves in each half… that was a big part of the day that our defense played as well as it did,” Lacey expressed. “We had good chances in front of goal from early on, their keeper had a number of great stops, but we just were patient and persistent.”

Lacey emphasized that high school soccer is an 80-minute game and when the Whitefish team forces its opponents to beat all 11 players every time by minimizing mistakes, it makes it quite difficult on the other team to score.

Whitefish is continuing its focus on playing clean soccer heading into the final weekend of the season — the State A boys soccer final which will pin cross-county rival Columbia Falls against Whitefish on Saturday. The match will be Whitefish’s fifth-straight trip to the state championship game and the Bulldogs are seeking their fourth-straight title having won the last three years.

“Come Saturday we definitely want to try and put our stamp on that fourth one,” Lacey said. “The guys have played well against CFalls and they make us play better because they are a good team. We’re certainly very aware of the damage they can do — they score goals, they defend well, they work hard all the time, they’re well coached; so I would expect it to be a great match.”

The Columbia Falls Wildcats are coming off a physical 1-0 win over semifinal opponent Loyola during which Josiah Kilman scored in the first minute of play; the Cats held off the Rams for the rest of the game.

Whitefish won both matchups with the Wildcats this season, the first 4-1, and the latter 5-1 when Menicke put up all five of the Bulldogs goals in the game. Lacey predicts Columbia Falls will change up a few things to try to prevent Menicke from having another performance like that against the Wildcats.

Regardless, the coach says he expects a hard match that will showcase high-level soccer from both programs.

“We’re excited, it’s a great showcase of soccer up here in the Flathead…” Lacey said. “These guys know each other, literally 362 days a year we can cheer for one another and so I’m excited that both of the programs are doing well right now.”

The two teams also met in last year’s State A final and Whitefish won the battle 3-0.

Whitefish will host the Wildcats at Smith Fields for the championship game beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

Class A semifinals

Saturday

Whitefish 3, Park 0

Whitefish 2 1 — 3

Park 0 0 — 0

WF — Chase Sabin 26:00

WF — Gabe Menicke (Sabin) 38:00

WF — Menicke 63:00

Shots — WF 10, Park 6. Goalie saves — WF 6 (Will Peppmeier), Park 7 (Brandon Smith). Corner kicks — WF 4, Park 4. Fouls — WF 6, Park 4. Cards — Park 4.