St. James Academy tops Maranatha in Class 4-1A soccer regional finals
OVERLAND PARK — Rick Enna expected a battle, and that’s exactly what Enna’s St. James Academy Thunder got from Maranatha Academy during the Class 4-1A regional championship soccer game Thursday at the Overland Park Soccer Complex.
St. James won 5-1, but the victory didn’t come nearly as easy as the final score might indicate.
Maranatha struck first, and the game was tied after 55 minutes before St. James finished with a flurry of goals.
In the end, Enna’s team was celebrating its third straight trip to the Class 4-1A state quarterfinals, but the St. James coach also tipped his hat to the opposition — and a school where he used to coach.
“They’ve got a great bunch of boys, and they played hard and are very well coached,” Enna said. “They got that goal in the first half. I thought we had the better of the play the majority of the game, but they were very intentional in the way they played. They played very solid defense, and they looked for opportunities with their strong forward up top — and he was an arm full.”
St. James asserted its power on offense from the opening minutes as it unleashed a series of shots. Accuracy was an issue against the feisty Eagle defense, however. Few shots were on target, and those that were didn’t make it past the Maranatha back line of Josh Wirtz, Caleb Henderson, Cole Mowrer and Nate Sheahan, or goalkeeper Alex Siemers.
Finally, Maranatha launched a counter-attack in the 14th minute when midfielder Mitch Heller broke free up the middle and fired a pass ahead to forward Connor Emberlin on the left wing. Emberlin attracted the defense and fed a perfect through ball to the charging Heller from 18 yards out. Heller split the St. James defense and buried a shot for a 1-0 lead.
St. James continued to struggle with its accuracy until the 25th minute when defender Frankie Zitnik fired a free kick from 35 yards out that tucked just below the crossbar and inside the far post. It was an indefensible goal, and it was just the shot in the arm the Thunder needed to settle down.
The game was tied 1-1 at halftime, but Maranatha nearly reclaimed the lead in the 46th minute. Midfielder Luke Miller stole the ball and fed it ahead to the dangerous Emberlin, who had a breakaway. St. James goalkeeper Eric Huber charged out of the goal, slid and deflected Emberlin’s shot.
“We had that breakaway and Connor made an amazing shot and the keeper made a phenomenal save,” Eagles coach Keith Nelson said. “I felt like had that gone in that could have been a big turning point.”
Huber’s effort kept the score tied, and it stayed that way until the 56th minute. That was about the time the Eagles began to wear down, and St. James’ size and strength took over. The Thunder got a goal from midfielder Matt Gardner from close range to make it 2-1. Alec Bartlett, Zach Kohlrus and Kyle Curtis tacked on late goals.
Maranatha ended its season with a 12-5 record.
St. James (10-6-2) played Tuesday in the quarterfinals against Louisburg.