Westminster’s remarkable season ends in tight 1A-3A State Championship

Published 2:57 pm Friday, May 10, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

HUNTSVILLE – After falling behind 3-1 to the St. Luke’s Episcopal Wildcats in the Class 1A-3A State Championship game, the Westminster at Oak Mountain Knights flipped the switch and rallied to take the fight to the Wildcats down the stretch.

While the Knights scored to make it a one-goal game in the 68th minute, they couldn’t secure the equalizer and lost 3-2 to St. Luke’s on Friday, May 10 at John Hunt Park in Huntsville.

Before that, Westminster flew ahead in the start of the match and grabbed the early lead.

In the fourth minute, Grey Carter sent a pass to Aiden Gamble, who sent the shot into the back of the net for the opening goal to put the Knights up 1-0.

St. Luke’s responded with multiple offensive efforts over the next 10 minutes, including a wide shot in the fourth minute, a driving run that was called offside in the ninth minute and a corner kick in the 11th minute.

Westminster still fought throughout the first half in response to the pressure and won more quality chances than the Wildcats.

Gamble crossed the ball in from the wing in the 17th minute, but the keeper collected it before anything could come of it.

Three minutes later, a big chance came off a Gamble breakaway as his shot hit the left post and a follow-up shot was saved. JD Waites put up another effort a minute later that was also saved by the St. Luke’s keeper.

After the Knights deflected an attacking cross from the Wildcats in the 23rd minutes, they got a corner kick two minutes later. Gamble sent in the cross, but the ensuing shot went over the goal.

St. Luke’s continued to fight back on the other end and eventually broke through for the equalizing goal in the 32nd minute.

Westminster sprinted back on the other end to try and get back in front. Charlie Krulak fought for space along the left wing before turning and shooting over the goal.

Both teams sent in promising crosses over the next five minutes, but nothing came on the other end of them.

However, that changed in the 38th minute when the Wildcats beat the Knights to a cross and hit a shot for the go-ahead goal and a 2-1 lead.

St. Luke’s nearly made the lead 3-1 before halftime with a free kick in the 40th minute, but Westminster took the one-goal lead into the break as they sought an answer.

Both teams had a free kick chance in the first 15 minutes of the half as the Knights’ 50th-minute effort was cleared and the Wildcats put a ball in front of Sam Carter in the 52nd minute before he dove on it to negate the scoring chance.

Shortly after, in the 54th minute, St. Luke’s got a similar chance after winning a one-on-one at the end of a cross, and it led to similar results as the Wildcats extended their lead to 3-1.

St. Luke’s peppered the Knights defense with shots over the next 10 minutes, but soon enough, Westminster flipped the switch and took the fight to the Wildcats.

The Knights started looking for chances wherever they could find them, not giving up on plays as they sought to get back in the match.

That included a 68th minute corner kick that looked like it would lead to nothing, but Luke Likens turned the corner at the box and crossed it back in.

St. Luke’s tried to clear the ball, but it went straight to David Bean, and he stretched out his left leg away from goal and tapped it back in the net for the acrobatic goal, and all of a sudden, it was a 3-2 game.

Westminster immediately pressed the attack off the kickoff and sent a cross in to win a corner. That then led to another corner as it continued to put pressure on the Wildcats.

The Knights continued to play with energy as they sought to move the ball and win it back quickly when they lost it.

Westminster got another big chance in the 78th minute when it made a run near the top of the box, and St. Luke’s chose to commit a yellow-card foul in response that forced a free kick atop the box. Gamble took the free kick direct on goal, but the wind helped push his effort over the goal.

While the Knights fought for the ball until the end, that proved to be the last substantial chance as the Wildcats sealed the 3-2 win and the state championship.

The final stat line showed the closeness of the teams on the pitch as St. Luke’s only had an 11-10 shot advantage. Westminster won the shots-on-goal battle 6-5 and had one less foul than the Wildcats at 11 to 12. Both teams also earned three corner kicks to tie on the stat sheet.

The Knights finished the season as the state runners-up with an 18-4-4 record complete with multiple accomplishments.

Those included a 10-0 area record, area championship, a win over 7A Spain Park, draw with 7A No. 2 Chelsea and, after falling in the semifinals in 2023, a victory in the Final Four to get one step closer to a state title.