BATON ROUGE -- Walker coach Todd Wall believes the disappointment will be temporary, but the team’s pride in the 2016-17 will endure.
“These guys have gone a great job of climbing,” Wall said. “We’ve been working in this program for quite some time. Our coaches have helped, and now the boys have tasted it and they’re going to want more.”
The best season in the program’s history came to an abrupt halt in Friday’s Division I state playoffs – Walker’s first appearance in five years – when the No. 22-seeded Wildcats were unable to solve No. 11 Catholic High’s defense in a 2-0 setback at Grizzly Field.
The Bears (9-6-5), the Division I, District 3 champion, swept Walker (14-7-3) this season after taking a 4-1 victory last month.
“Hats off to (Catholic coach Josh McReynolds) and his team,” Wall said. “They are incredible. They were undefeated in our district and to be able to compete with that group was well played by our guys.”
Walker dodged an early bullet when a 20-yard free kick from Catholic’s Eli Weathers bounced off the top, right-hand corner of the goal in the 7th minute of play.
Junior goalkeeper Brennan McGowan and the Wildcats’ back line of Albert Kalaj, Logan Eblen, Cameron Wheat and Kolbe David managed to keep the Bears’ scoreless despite a first-half barrage of 17 shots with 9 of those on target.
“Our goalie did a super job, saving many more goals,” Wall said. “It could have been a lot worse. Everyone hung in there. There’s a lot of disappointment, but we’ll get over it in the days to come.”
Catholic took a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute when Preston Stafford found Ben Hupperich, whose low 10-yard shot found the right side of the net.
“We didn’t see the guy coming the back from behind us,” Wall said. “You have to scan the field the whole time, looking where the ball is. They got on top of us and then they were really able to control the game.”
The Bears were suffocating on defense, limiting the Wildcats to two shots with neither on target. They were finally able to cross midfield just before Hupperich’s goal after a foul and free kick with a second ball going well over the goal.
“We had 40 minutes to go,” said McGowan, who finished with 17 saves, including 9 in the second half. “We survived the first half and they had the wind. It was a very winnable game and we had to play our soccer. We’ve got to finish our chances.”
Catholic paid close attention to Walker’s leading scorer Alex Vega throughout the first half. He didn’t get his first touch on the ball until early in the second half, but passed off to a teammate on a ball that was eventually cleared.
Caleb Wall got a shot on goal for Walker, but sent it directly to Catholic goalie Patrick Riley in the 60th minute.
The Bears, who had a 32-4 advantage in shots and 20-3 in shots on goal, increased its lead to 2-0 in the 63rd minute when Patrick Mensah sped past a defender and scored from 15 yards out to the right post.
Opportunities were few and far between with Walker registering three shots on goal in the second half with no corner kicks in the game.
After playing ball through Catholic’s box, only to have it cleared, Walker had one final chance to get on the scoreboard in stoppage time when Vega’s first shot of the game went wide left.
“When we played earlier we had the lead and they came back and won 4-1 at our stadium,” McGowan said. “For us to hold them to two in their stadium means a lot. We came in here saying we weren’t leaving without giving it everything we had. I’m proud to say we left it all out on the field.”
CATHOLIC HIGH 2, WALKER 0
Goals -- Catholic: Ben Hupperich, Patrick Mensah. Goalkeepers -- Walker: Brennan McGowan 17 saves, Catholic: Patrick Riley 3 saves. Shots/On goal -- Catholic: 32/20; Walker: 4/3. Records: Walker 14-7-3, Catholic 9-6-5.