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Blue Springs bows to controversial call, Jeff City

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner

JEFFERSON CITY – The best soccer season in years for Blue Springs came an abrupt end on a cool Saturday night at Eddie Horn Field.

Bassil Ahmed recorded a hat trick and Class 4 No. 3-ranked Jefferson City picked up a 4-1 victory over the Wildcats in a sectional playoff.

Blue Springs finished the year with a 14-9 record and won a district title for the first time since becoming back-to-back district champions in 2006-2007. At one point this year, the Wildcats were 7-7 but finished the regular season with a flurry and beat Columbia Hickman and Rock Bridge last week in district play – both games in Columbia – to earn a playoff berth.

“I’m proud of them,” Palermo said pointing toward the bench. “That is the hardest part. What do you say to them to make them feel better? You can’t. It was tough. I’m so proud of what they accomplished. You’ve got to remember that three years ago we won one game and now we are in a sectional game against a quality team that could make a run to the final four.”

Trekking halfway across the state for the third time in a week, the Wildcats fell behind 1-0 on Ahmed’s first goal in the 32nd minute. Ahmed took a shot that went off a Blue Springs defender and deflected into the opposite direction that goalkeeper Tristan Hoyle was going.

In the 57th minute, a tackle by a Blue Springs defender to stop an attack by Jefferson City – winners of 11 in a row – ended in a foul despite some verbal disagreement between the official and Palermo.

Palermo argued it was a clean tackle, but for the third time in one week the same official called a penalty in the box against Blue Springs.

“Unless you are 100 percent sure, don’t get involved; unless it’s blatant, don’t get involved; and he found a way to get involved again,” Palermo said. “In this magnitude of a game don’t change the game on that. They are a great team and they deserve to win; they are dangerous enough to make a run to the final four. There were horrible calls. I’m not blaming the loss on those, but it has to be better officiated at this level.”

Darby Hall converted the penalty kick, burying a shot under the top of the crossbar to give the Jays a 2-0 lead.

“We knew if we went down more than one it would be a pretty uphill battle,” Blue Springs senior forward Matthew Martinez said.

After the kick went in, Palermo received a yellow card from the head official for continuing to argue the call.

Perhaps the reason for Palermo’s displeasure came in the 49th minute when the Wildcats were on the attack, down one, when a similar play happened from the other side. A Jays defender took down a Blue Springs attacker but play went on and Palermo yelled “you’ve gotta be kidding me!” to no avail.

“The PK makes it 2-0 and that is when the winds come out of our sails,” Palermo said. “It is hard to come back on a team like that down 2-0.”

Blue Springs, which had a seven-game winning streak snapped, had a chance to answer a minute after the PK. A handball call just outside of the goal box by Jefferson City set up a free kick, but before it happened, the Jays were issued a yellow card for dissent.

The initial shot went off the Jays’ wall of defenders and the deflection went to Martinez, whose second shot sailed over the top of the goal.

Two minutes after the PK and a minute after the Wildcats’ scoring chance, Cale Heiberger sent a pass across the box that Ahmed put into the back of the net in the 59th minute.

With 9 minutes left, Ahmed scored his third goal, with Heiberger getting his second assist of the contest.

The Wildcats had three shots on goal between the 73rd and 78th minutes but missed them all. That changed in the final seconds, as the public address announcer started the countdown from 10 to zero, Blue Springs scored. Sawyer Turpin attacked the goal and as the keeper moved to his right to stop it, Turpin sent a pass across the box and Dom Zubeck scored.

Moments later, the countdown continued and the game ended.

“It seems like a lot,” said a teary-eyed Martinez after the team talked with Palermo and had a chance to go thank the fans that made the trip to mid-Missouri. “We did a lot and we made history. It is just bittersweet. On one hand we came this far, but we all know it wasn't enough for us. We know we had the potential to make a run. I will enjoy what we had; the glory moments we had. What stinks is this group, the talent we had, it is hard to be OK with a loss. We know we could’ve made it further.”