DES MOINES – Iowa began its 25th spring state tournament in boys soccer late last week, and Lewis Central had been little more than an afterthought.
The Titans entered the 2019 edition with zero state-tournament victories. By contrast Cedar Rapids Xavier, Tuesday’s opponent, had 29 state wins.
Lewis Central is no longer an afterthought.
The ninth-rated Titans slayed top-rated Xavier, a seven-time champion, 1-0 in the Class 2-A championship game at Cownie Soccer Park. It capped a tournament in which L.C. also ousted No. 3 Storm Lake and No. 8 Hudson.
“What an amazing season with an amazing group of players,’’ L.C. coach James Driver said. “They deserve it. I will remember this moment forever.
“They played together. They played as a team. They didn’t make it about individual stats. They stuck together, played well and they came home with the trophy.’’
The title-winning goal game in the 23rd minute, after a seemingly innocent Xavier handball near midfield. Connor Williams sent a free kick into the box, and it deflected to junior Jacob Lin in front of the goal. He knocked in his fifth goal of the season and celebrated with a backflip.
“I do think it bounced around in there a little bit,’’ Lin said. “It just sat in front of me, so I just tried to get my foot on it and place it.’’
It had been a tumultuous year for Lin. He suffered a head injury on April 25 against Abraham Lincoln and missed 10 games before returning on May 16.
Nonetheless, Driver said it wasn’t far-fetched for the starting right midfielder to be the lone goal scorer in a state-title game.
“He finds himself in some good spots,’’ Driver said. “He has a pretty wicked shot, and he’s a good finisher.’’
After a pretty even first half of possession, Xavier applied plenty of pressure after the intermission. One reporter had the Saints with 14 shots to the Titans’ six, and eight shots on goal to the Titans’ four.
However, keeper Cole Jensen and the back line of juniors Williams and Cole Drummond, senior Brandon Cline and freshman Easton Adams were up to the task, recording their 19th clean sheet in 23 outings and keeping Xavier scoreless for just the second time this season.
“It’s just a mentality,’’ said Jensen, who was asked for an autograph from a young Titan fan during a postgame interview. “Getting after it at practice, just battling to be better. We got the right group of guys that were willing to do it all together. We didn’t have anyone that was too selfish.’’
The third-seeded Titans (20-3) dodged two great Xavier chances down the stretch. With eight minutes left, a well-timed cross left Jensen out of position, but Adams alertly made a kick save of a shot on frame.
And with just more than two minutes remaining, leading scorer Andrija Mijatovic (26 goals), a second-year foreign-exchange student from Croatia, made a second touch in close but sent it just wide of Jensen. He had scored a combined five times in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
“The first half we didn’t play the way we usually play, and Lewis Central had something to do with it, because they obviously denied the way we play,’’ Xavier coach Amir Hadzic said. “The second half when we settled in a little bit, we played better. We possessed. I think we had more chances. … Too bad we couldn’t poke one in.’’
Top-seeded Xavier (16-3) dropped to 7-3 in career championship matches.
Soccer has been a big part of junior midfielder Connor Lancial’s family. Sister Gabby played in two state tournaments for the Titans. Uncles Kevin and Kyle played on St. Albert’s state-title team in 1998.
Connor Lancial said that when the Titans dropped a class and joined Iowa City Liberty as the largest 2-A schools prior to the season, it was on.
“Instantly we all said, ‘State champs. We can do this,’’’ he said.
There probably aren’t many championship teams that begin the year with a 4-0 loss, like L.C. did against Harlan Community.
“(Dropping classes) got in our head,’’ Lancial said. “All we were thinking about was right now.’’
The Titans regrouped and finished in grand fashion in front of a raucous student section Driver called “the best, hands down, in the state of Iowa.’’
The second-year Titan coach said all of the school’s soccer alumni – and beyond — should relish the championship.
“It’s not just our team that enjoys this win,’’ he said. “I think it’s our school and our community.’’
Lewis Central (20-3) 1 0 – 1
CR Xavier (16-3) 0 0 – 0
Goal: LC, Jacob Lin. Assist: LC, Connor Williams.
Espino captain, 3 other Titans all-tourney
Lewis Central junior forward Luis Espino was named captain of the Class 2-A all-tournament team Tuesday after helping the Titans to their first state title. He had the lone goal in L.C.’s 1-0 semifinal win over Hudson, his team-leading 21st of the season.
Espino was joined on the team by three teammates: senior keeper Cole Jensen, junior midfielder Connor Lancial and junior defender Connor Williams. The rest of the team included Cael Klein and Jace Brandenberg of Gilbert, Alec Staebell and Brayden Grosse of Hudson, and Andrija Mijatovic, Michael Glavan and Kristijan Smolcic of Cedar Rapids Xavier.