Stadium claims second PCL soccer crown



The Stadium Tigers were in a mood to celebrate after junior defenseman Chase Kleeberger’s (14) goal. It pushed the Tigers’ lead to 3-0 over Mt. Tahoma with just 14 minutes remaining in the game. The lead would prove to be too much for the T-Birds, as Stadium claimed another Pierce County League championship. Photo by Rocky Ross

The last time the Stadium Tigers boys soccer team laced up the sneakers and went to battle at Mt. Tahoma Stadium, things did not go according to plan. The undefeated Tigers, and their supporters, saw their season draw to a close in stunning fashion. Dreams of a state championship were dashed in the final minute of their first-round state matchup. Sometimes those games, as well as locations, can come back to haunt a team.

Well, you can go ahead and remove that bit of superstition from this year’s version of Stadium soccer. The “Home of the T-Birds” could have gotten to their collective heads when Stadium paid a visit against the home standing Mt. Tahoma T-Birds on Friday, April 27. However, whatever residual power that remained in the stadium seemed to have no effect on the defending 3A Pierce County League champions.

As a matter of fact, when Stadium left Mt. Tahoma Stadium that night, they walked as repeat champions. Following an impressive 4-1 victory over the surging T-Birds, the Tigers claimed their second-consecutive league title under the second-year leadership of head coach, and former Stadium great, Raphael Cox.

The T-Birds controlled the pace of for most of the first half, but were unable to find the back of the net until late in the match. Photo by Rocky Ross

In their previous meeting, Mt. Tahoma pushed the Tigers to the limit in their 1-0 loss at Stadium on Friday, March 30. We circled the date of the rematch a long time ago, and for a solid half, the T-Birds were putting Stadium to the true test. If the Tigers were going to capture the league crown on Mt. Tahoma’s own turf, they were going to have to earn it.

Stadium entered the match 10-0-1 in league play and needed a win or a draw over the T-Birds to take home the league trophy. Mt. Tahoma, in the midst of one of the school’s best seasons ever, could stay alive with a victory. From the opening whistle, you could tell that both squads knew just how high the stakes were in this contest.

The Tigers entered the game having given up just seven goals in league play on the season, while putting 40 into the back of the nets. The Stadium offense hasn’t been able to keep up with last season’s record pace, but it’s shown itself to have it when, and where, it counts. After losing so many seniors to graduation last spring, the remarkable part of this team has been that stingy defense. The unit has been keeping them in every game by pitching shutouts, or giving up just a single goal. The offense has answered when needed, and now the team is a champion again.

If the scoreboard didn’t matter, Mt. Tahoma owned the pace of play for nearly the entire first half. A bevy of scoring opportunities rolled out in front of the T-Birds, but the home team was unable to finish, time and time again. 

Stadium sophomore Braeden Pryor and Mt. Tahoma senior Felix Angel battle for the ball. Photo by Rocky Ross

It looked as though the teams were going to take a scoreless match into the locker rooms at halftime. However, Stadium began a late push that ramped up the pressure on the Mt. Tahoma goal. The Tigers hit the jackpot with just over three minutes remaining in the half off the foot of forward Jackson Snyder. The senior lofted a kick from about 25 yards out that flew above the fingertips of Mt. Tahoma’s sophomore goalkeeper Josiah Bowie.

The match had a different pace at the start of the second half. Stadium had found its groove and the pressure on the Mt. Tahoma goal continued to climb. With 19 minutes left in regulation, senior defensive stud Kendall Burks launched a throw-in from 30 yards out. The ball descended into the middle of the goal box. Unfortunately, a Mt. Tahoma defenseman mistimed his jump and got just enough of the ball with his head to skip it up and over a leaping Bowie. Stadium’s 2-0 lead suddenly felt like a 10-0 advantage with the shift in momentum.

It would take the Tigers just five minutes to add their third goal of the match. Junior defenseman Chase Kleeberger was hovering around the far end of the Mt. Tahoma goal looking for a crossing pass. The ball made it through the T-Bird defense and right to the foot of Kleeberger, who made a quick adjustment and slapped the ball into the right side of the goal with a quick left foot.

Stadium senior defenseman Kendall Burks is the cornerstone of a Tigers’ defense that has yielded a mere eight goals on the season through 14 matches. Photo by Rocky Ross

Mt. Tahoma was not going to be able to make up the difference in such a short amount of time. Both teams added another goal in the waning moments to make it 4-1.

Following their championship victory, Stadium marched into their next match against the Wilson Rams with nothing to lose. Again, the Tigers brought their strong game, shutting out the Rams by a score of 2-0 on Monday, April 30. The Tigers now sit at 12-0-1 in league play and 12-1-2 overall. Stadium has now outscored the opposition 46 goals to just eight.

Last season, the scheduling wizards sent the 3A PCL champions to Olympia to host their district match. In their great wisdom, they have done it again. Stadium will play on Saturday, May 12, at Ingersoll Stadium at 12 p.m. The winner of the match will head to state as the district’s second seed. The loser’s season is over.

Mt. Tahoma didn’t let the loss phase them. The T-Birds hung a 3-1 loss on a strong Lincoln Abes squad on Monday, April 30. The T-Birds look to have locked-down the second seed from the league and will be hosting a district match on Saturday, May 12, at Harry Lang Stadium in Lakewood. The T-Birds (8-2-3, 10-2-3) will play Peninsula (7-3-3), third-seed from the South Sound Conference at 2 p.m. The winner will head to state as the district’s fifth seed. The loser is out.

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