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regional soccer championship

Star Valley's Bryson Jenkins and Green River's Chase Stoeger head the ball during the championship game of the Class 4A West Regional on Saturday at Cheney Alumni Field in Casper.

The freshest face in Class 4A came out on top. Star Valley endured a near 99-minute charge from Green River to go into a penalty shootout where the Braves won for the second time in three days at Cheney Alumni Field.

This year’s Class 4A West Regional Boys Soccer Championship ended with Star Valley goalkeeper Alec Lawson turning away Green River senior Erik Gwaltney. A block of a blistering shot denied a repeat regional title and reserved gold for the underdog.

“It was always supposed to be this way,” Lawson stated afterwards.

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Saturday’s initial moments supported that theory. Star Valley struck first, taking the Green River defense by surprise. Senior Andrew Jeske sent a ball onto frame from deep that Green River goalkeeper Tyler Killett mishandled. The ball then trickled away and bounced into the back of the net just 79 seconds into the match.

Last year’s regional champion captured the possession and chances from there. The Wolves earned three free kicks in threatening positions within 6 minutes of the opening goal only for the Braves’ defense to endure all of them. That defense withstood more attacks until a necessary foul in the box was called, leading to a Green River penalty kick in the 14th minute.

Senior captain Chase Stoeger, who had scored three goals in the regional tournament coming in, stepped to the spot and calmly equalized with a shot between goalkeeper Alek Lawson’s hand and the post. Lawson, who made three saves in a penalty shootout against Evanston just to clinch a spot in the state tournament, guessed the right side but didn’t move far enough.

Neither team tested the opposing goalkeeper much for the remainder of the half, although Green River went into the break with momentum. The Wolves held the majority of possession past midfield and a turnaround shot by Stoeger just before the buzzer sailed wide of net. That was enough to draw a standing ovation from the Wolves’ faithful.

Green River maintained that momentum throughout most of the second half but couldn’t break through the Star Valley defense. With every mounting free kick, corner kick or even dropped ball to the midfield came a snowballing anxious energy from the Wolves. A free kick from outside the side of the box was quickly dealt with. A corner kick that fell into the middle of the box hit the turf twice before the Braves disposed of the danger. The Green River crowd gasped at another missed opportunity.

“You try to take advantage as much as possible with the opportunities that you have,” Green River head coach Chris Bieber said. “When you don’t do that — it’s hard. But when you fight like you do and have that end result, what do you do?”

Star Valley nearly snatched the victory away with 38 seconds left when a foul for an illegal handball on the goalkeeper drew an indirect free kick from 10 yards out. That initial shot hit the wall and the Wolves cleared it away to force overtime. Teams traded opportunities the rest of the way until the shootout was necessary.

Both teams scored on their first two attempts. That raised the stakes for Lawson’s third attempted save of the shootout. Having already allowed three in, including Stoeger’s penalty to draw level in the first half, Lawson once again stepped to the line.

“There’s five shots total so if you miss the first one you have four other chances to block one,” Lawson said. “Luckily, they didn’t capitalize on two of them and I was able to block that last one.”

The Braves once again descended on the goalkeeper following yet another shootout victory. That win gave Star Valley the No. 1 seed out of the West at next weekend’s state tournament. Lawson said he plans on taking a 24-hour nap before then out of necessity.

Jackson 1, Kelly Walsh 0, OT

The Broncs prevailed out of a tight third-place match with the West Conference regular-season champion Trojans.

The first half of the match was nearly washed away due to the heavy rain and falling temperatures. Kelly Walsh built the better chances but neither team was able to sustain consistent pressure and possession. Conditions improved in the second half but neither team could break the deadlock.

A Kelly Walsh attempt at net by Sian Realing at the end of regulation sailed over the cross bar and Colten Atkinson sent a shot past the goalkeeper with 45 seconds left in the first overtime period that rolled across the mouth of goal and out of play.

Jackson junior Gerardo Duran scored the winner in the 94th minute on a breakaway to the near post. Realing’s last attempt to offset that with 30 seconds remaining also sailed wide of the net.

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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