Panthers fall in first title shot

By Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal

CLINTON – Florence mauled Amory’s net in the first half of the MHSAA Class 4A state championship match, scoring off two set pieces and the Eagles won their second state soccer championship, 3-0 Saturday at Clinton High School.
“They had big, strong boys and just did a good job,” Amory coach Nathan Clayton said. “They were pretty tough in the air, ended up with some balls on their feet and they capitalized on the opportunities that they had.”
In the 26th minute, Ryne Riebock scored off a set-piece, thanks to the first of three long and on-target throw-ins from senior Andrew Baggett.
Amory keeper Kyle Thomas stopped another aggressive shot before another Baggett throw found Brandon King, who kicked it in for a 2-0 lead in the 23rd minute.
Brett Harris scored 4 minutes, 59 seconds into the second half.
“We have a guy who can throw it in probably the furthest I’ve seen anybody throw it,” said Harris.
Playing for the first time on an artificial turf, Amory (17-7-1) stayed in front of the Florence net early on. The Panthers, in their first title shot, had early chances that came up just short. Less than two minutes into the match, Amory senior Ryan Hill nearly sneaked the ball in on a corner kick from Nicholas Beasley. Hill then tried to head a goal in off a second corner.
Amory junior Zach Khima, who leads the state with 57 goals, also had a shot stopped by Florence keeper Jason West 90 seconds after Thomas made a save. Florence’s goals came with multiple Eagles (17-7-1) crowding the net, leaving lots of feet even when the ball was knocked away, a trend the Eagles took advantage of. Thomas had very little room to work for the Panthers.
“We put together a few decent counter attacks,” said Clayton, “but when they had a throw-in for 30 yards, it was almost like a corner kick. They were just throwing guys into our box and had a little bit more size than we did.”
Amory had fought off two more near goals late in the first half. Will Alexander cleared a shot and Thomas leaped to slap a shot away against the football goal post just in time. A Florence foul wiped away a goal as well.
“Florence is a great team,” said Amory senior Beasley, one of nine seniors. “(Baggett’s) arm strength is unbelievable. They had big guys and they capitalized.”
In the second half, senior Madison Francis had a hard free kick smothered by West and Evan Thomas nearly scored Amory’s first goal. The sophomore scoring threat had been out all season for Amory after a torn ACL and played nearly 15 second half minutes in the title game.
“We knew coming in they had big throw-ins,” Hill said. “We didn’t mark up and they put it in the back of the net. They do what they’re supposed to do. That’s why they do it.”