DES MOINES – For the past three seasons, the Lewis Central boys have cheered on their girls soccer counterparts to three consecutive state championships.
Now it’s time for them to take center stage, and they’re milking it for all it’s worth.
After a Brandon Cline throw-in, Luis Espino ripped one past keeper Marc Mahood in the 49th minute, and the vaunted Titan defense did the rest as No. 9 Lewis Central blanked No. 8 Hudson 1-0 in a Class 2-A state semifinal on Saturday at the Cownie Soccer Park.
After never having won a state soccer match, the third-seeded Titans have won two in two glorious days. In its first state appearance in 22 years, L.C. (19-3) will play top-rated, top-seeded Cedar Rapids Xavier (16-2), a seven-time champion, back here in Tuesday’s 2:30 p.m. championship game.
“It means a lot, because we’re making history right now,’’ L.C. junior Cole Drummond said. “No other boys soccer team has made it this far, and to represent our school like this, it’s pretty cool.’’
Lewis Central coach James Driver said as great as the girls program has been, it’s been a challenge for the boys to create their own level of excellence. With a 50-8 record over the past three seasons, the Titans are doing just that. It was their 41st shutout in those 58 matches.
“I always joked and said we lived in the shadows behind the girls program, because they’re so successful year in and year out,’’ Driver said. “It’s a lot to live up to on our side of the program. It’s good to join them (in the finals), and I’m hoping that they can actually join us and make their quest for state to defending their state title.’’
On Saturday, seventh-seeded Hudson (19-3) and the Titans battled through a scoreless first half. L.C.’s Paul Devine had a great individual run in the 15th minute that was denied by a sliding Mahood, and Mahood deflected a good look from Espino at close range in the 18th minute.
The Titans had more scoring opportunities in the first half, but Hudson star Alec Staebell (32 goals) nearly converted in the 24th minute, banging a deep, twisting shot off the crossbar.
“At halftime, I said, ‘Listen, boys, I like a lot of our chances. We just didn’t finish them,’’’ Driver said. “I’m not saying they didn’t have any chances, but I liked ours.’’
Finally, in the 49th minute, the Titans struck. Cline fired one in from the right side and it found its way to the opportunistic Espino, who whirled and fired. It trickled off Mahood, who desperately tried to reach back to keep it from crossing the line. Espino rushed in and knocked it in before he could corral it, but he said it was already over the line anyway.
“I just had to make sure,’’ he said. “I saw it coming towards me. It bounced, and I just timed it right and I hit it.’’
Goalkeeper Cole Jensen and the back line of Cline, Connor Williams, Easton Adams and Drummond stood firm in the final 30 minutes, with help from midfielders Connor Lancial, Will Devine and others. Driver dropped back Paul Devine to help on defense, leaving Espino up top.
“We just kind of didn’t get that connecting pass that we wanted,’’ Hudson coach Sue Rink said
The Pirates had a great opportunity with 22 seconds remaining. Staebell fed Cameron Bruess, who ripped one from the left wing that clanged off the right post.
Moments later, the Titans were celebrating again. Driver said it was fitting that the Titans produced a clean sheet at least once in Des Moines.
“We’ve stood on our defense all year long,’’ he said. “They’ve always come up big. It’s not just our defense. It’s really collective as a whole team. But it starts with our back line and our goalkeeper, and they communicate well. They’re physical. They’re never hesitant. They’re just a special group of guys.’’
Lewis Central (19-3) 0 1 – 1
Hudson (19-3) 0 0 – 0
Goal: LC, Luis Espino. Assist: LC, Brandon Cline.