Reaching the final of the Class 4, District 12 soccer tournament was a breeze for Lee’s Summit North — literally.
A fierce north wind roared down the Bronco Stadium field Monday night during North’s semifinal match against Raymore-Peculiar.
The Broncos had it at their backs during the second half, when it helped launch two long free kicks by A.J. James — one at the start of the half and one for the game-winner in the 76th minute — that proved to be the difference in a 3-2 victory.
North (15-8) advanced to face Lee’s Summit (12-7) at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the district final at North.
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Lee’s Summit advanced by blanking Lee’s Summit West 3-0 in the first semifinal.
“The boys did a great job of weathering all the adversity tonight, even the weather,” Broncos coach Ryan Kelley said. “It was rough. We felt we could play through (the wind) in the first half and take advantage of it and use it to help us out in the second half, and it worked out great for us.”
James, a junior midfielder, hit both shots from the exact same spot on the field — about 35 yards from the goal. Both kicks arced over Ray-Pec’s defense and landed in the net behind Panthers’ goalkeeper Joshua Figge.
“That goal really helped us, the first one,” said James, who works on that shot every day in practice. “It gave us some confidence.”
North needed a confidence boost after Ray-Pec (13-8) used its speed and the tailwind to frustrate the Broncos in the first half.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead into the half after forward Cory Prince beat Broncos goalkeeper Colin Dooley on a shot to the far post in the 27th minute.
James equalized with his first goal six minutes into the second half, but Ray-Pec quickly countered.
Prince delivered an assist after a long run through the midfield before laying the ball off to Andrew Burdick for a goal just two minutes later.
“That could really hurt a lot of teams, but our boys did a good job of staying after it and finding ways to get forward and make some plays,” Kelley said. “Those last seven and a half to eight minutes were kind of wild.”
North tied it again when Mitchell Petersen flicked a long cross over Figge’s head during the 73rd minute.
Three minutes later, James lofted in the game-winner.
“You knew if we had that opportunity, hopefully we’d be able to take advantage of it, and A.J. did a great job,” Kelley said. “(A) lot of times guys have the wind at their backs and they hit the ball and it goes sailing and takes off on them. He did a good job of keeping it on frame.”
Top-seeded Lee’s Summit, which split its two games with North during the regular season, got two goals from Bailey Oelberg and a stout defense allowed West (9-13-1) few opportunities.
Oelberg scored his first goal four minutes in and notched his second off a rebound in the 49th minute.
Keenan Johnson polished off the Tigers’ win with a goal in the 58th minute.
“That early goal, especially going against this wind, helps a ton,” Lee’s Summit coach Dave Wiebenga said. “It knocks them back a little bit. I thought defensively tonight was one of our best performances of the season.”