SHERIDAN — Through the ebbs and flows of the season, Kelly Walsh was used to finding its way to the top.
When they were down to 10 men against Rock Springs, they scored a late goal to end the Tigers’ 12-match unbeaten streak.
When the Trojans were sent to 10 men again on Thursday, they came back to beat Gillette in a shootout.
But being forced to play without starting defender Austin Kampa on Friday posed a lot bigger problem in practice than in preparation. Then, after the opening whistle at the Big Horn Equestrian Center, the Trojans lost much more.
Cheyenne Central’s Ross Elliott started his two-goal match with a goal in the 20th minute while the Trojans lost starters to injury throughout the 3-0 Central win to relegate Kelly Walsh to the third-place match in the Wyoming State High School Class 4A Boys Soccer Championship.
“We thought we could get some matchups that would set our defense up well,” Kelly Walsh head coach Bryan Chadderdon said. “It was obvious within the first five minutes that it was going to be a struggle.
“No discredit to the kids that were in there because they played hard and I thought for the most part played pretty well, but (Kampa’s) leadership, his ability to win balls in the air, his kind of calmness back there, his presence was missed as much as his play.”
Kampa wasn’t the only Trojan who missed time on the pitch.
Ramon Lopez was sidelined after a risky tackle early in the first half. He later returned to the match to provide an emotional lift, but by then the match had reached its final score.
Senior defender and Thursday hero Ryan McMullen left the match and did not return after taking a slide tackle to the legs. The co-captain’s absence on the field was immediately noticeable.
Not stopping there, freshman Kyle Woodruff suffered a concussion just minutes later and could not return.
“It was hard. It was very hard,” Chadderdon said. “I felt like our kids kept working and believing and fighting for sure.”
Kelly Walsh’s best chance came when Devin Palepale headed a ball past the keeper, which would have cut the lead to 2-1, but the ball deflected off the crossbar before being cleared out.
The Indians advance to play Cheyenne East in Saturday’s championship match after the Thunderbirds escaped the calamity that defending champion Laramie could not.
Green River fought from its No. 3 seed and dethroned the Plainsmen on Thursday, and continued its run against the T-Birds by forcing overtime.
In the extra frame the Wolves continued to provide pressure until junior Brayden Parker scored the game-winner in the 84th minute.
Saturday’s championship will feature the No. 1 seed and No. 4 seed out of the East Conference.
It got dicey and it was hectic, but Laramie’s Paige Trent scored in the 73rd minute and the Plainsmen held on to a highly-contested 4-3 victory over Cheyenne East.
Friday was the fourth meeting of the season between the two sides. Laramie won the first before East won in back-to-back weekend matches.
“I think they might have taken us lightly because they beat us so many times,” Laramie head coach Kim Whisenant said, “but we were out and ready for it.”
Confidence wavered on the Plainsmen sideline when East equalized to make it 3-3. Maybe the T-Birds were going to pull it out like they did the previous two matches.
But then came Trent’s goal to save the day.
“We needed that one for the confidence,” Whisenant said. “And to keep the kids headed in the right direction as a team. ... Teamsmanship was our goal and I think we did a good job today.”
Laramie will get the opportunity to defend its championship and go for a repeat when it takes on Gillette.
A “glitch” in the player roster cards limited Laramie on the pitch in regionals, partly playing into the No. 4 seed. They are happy to move forward and back into their rightful spot.
“I think that mentally hurt us,” Whisenant said. “But now everybody’s back and I think that gives us confidence heading into tomorrow.”
The Camels enter the championship match after a 2-0 win over Central.
Scoreless at halftime, Gillette’s speed and second-half adjustments made an immediate impact when Delaney Hallcroft scored in the 41st minute before leading scorer Grace Roswadovski tallied the second just four minutes later.