Your Prep Sports
DES MOINES – Prior to its Class 3A state semifinal against Marion it had already been a historic season for Liberty High.
The Lightning advanced to the state tournament for the first time, winning their state meet debut over top-ranked Dallas Center-Grimes on Tuesday.
Liberty High continued to make history on Thursday.
Ninth-ranked Liberty High advanced to the state title game for the first time in program history with a 2-0 rain delayed win over third-ranked and previously unbeaten Marion (19-1) in a Class 3A semifinal at muggy, soggy and foggy Cownie Soccer Complex.
“Some kids dream about this stuff and this is our first time going to state and we go the finals,” Liberty High senior Flori Gembo said. “We have a chance to do something special that has never been done.”
Seniors Hayden Saul and Gembo scored goals in the final 19 minutes of the opening half and Liberty High (11-8) shutdown Marion standout Jackson Kirsch while advancing to the Class 3A championship match.
Liberty High will face sixth-ranked Norwalk (13-7) in the 3A title game on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Norwalk upset second-ranked Des Moines Hoover 1-0 in the other 3A semifinal on Thursday.
“It’s just their heart, it’s their hard work, it’s their attention to the game plan,” Liberty High coach Matt Harding said. “I couldn’t be any prouder of our guys.”
In its first ever state tournament match Liberty High twice rallied from a one-goal deficit in a 4-2 win over top-ranked Dallas Center-Grimes.
On Thursday it was the Lightning defense that rose to the occasion against Kirsch and the Wolves.
Liberty High posted its fifth shutout in the past five matches and became the first team this season to hold Marion scoreless.
“We walked into the game knowing (Kirsch) was a dangerous player but we didn’t let that take our focus off the game,” Liberty High junior Haider Nasr said. “We worked together as a team, everyone put in their 100 percent effort and we got the job done.”
Kirsch entered with a state-leading 70 goals, helping Marion outscore opponents 112-1 on the season.
He was held in check on Thursday by a motivated and focused Liberty High defense.
“Coming into this game we had one person in our mind Jackson Kirsch,” Gembo said. “What a great player, 70 goals, that is all we were focusing on is trying to stop him.”
Marion allowed its first goal of the season in a 3-1 quarterfinal win over Denison-Schleswig on Tuesday.
The Lightning struck twice in a span of less than five minutes late in the first half against the Wolves defense.
Saul snapped the scoreless tie when he wove through traffic and slipped in a low shot with 18:03 left in the opening half.
Gembo added the insurance with his first state tournament goal with 3:16 remaining in the opening half.
“We have great chemistry,” Gembo said. “Once we’ve gotten everyone back it all snapped and the results show.”
After that it was the Liberty High defense that clamped down, holding the dangerous Marion attack in check.
It’s not just about goals scored it took everybody to keep them off the board,” Harding said. “They are so dangerous all the time. Even there towards the end we weren’t comfortable, I need three or four goals before the BPMs get down to where I am happy.”