By RICK PETERSON
Playing a highly-regarded Free State team in Tuesday night's Class 6A regional soccer final, it was important for Washburn Rural to get out of the gate quick.
The Junior Blues did exactly that, scoring two goals over the opening 13:21 of the game and three in the first half on the way to a decisive 4-1 win over the Firebirds at McElroy Field.
"We knew Free State was going to be solid,'' Rural coach Brian Hensyel said. "They had a great season and beat some of the better teams in Kansas City, so this was a tough draw.
"We talked about getting off to a quick start and obviously you get an early goal, then you get a second goal and you make the other team play from behind the whole time and we were able to control the game.''
With Tuesday's win 17-1-0, Washburn Rural advanced to next Tuesday's 6A quarterfinal game, which will also be played on the Junior Blues' home turf. The Junior Blues will play Garden City, which is 12-4-2, in the quarterfinal.
Washburn Rural, which stretched its winning streak to seven games, never trailed after senior star Devon Rutschmann scored on a breakaway 4:45 into the contest.
"There was no one around me and I saw one defender and I was like, 'You know what, I'm not holding the ball for another 20 seconds,' '' Rutschmann said. "I was like, 'I'll go, beat them with one touch and then finish it home.' ''
The Junior Blues made it a 2-0 game with an own goal at the 26:39 mark of the first half and went up by a commanding 3-0 margin on Rutschmann's second goal of the night with 5:15 left in the half.
"Obviously, every game the first 15 minutes you want one and want two,'' Rutschmann said. "Recently we've been playing some pretty good teams and getting those early goals just allows us to keep the tempo, have them on their heels and making the night easier.''
Free State (10-6-1) got on the scoreboard with 33:19 left in the game on a goal from senior Cameron Stutler but Rural senior Griffin Heinen answered at the 22:55 mark to account for the final margin.
"Our senior captains -- Devon had a coule of goals and Griffin Heinen with the dunk there at the end -- we tell our leaders they've got to step up in the big games and they did that tonight,'' Hensyel said.
Senior Cohen Nimz, sophomore Liam Morrison and sophomore Dylan Willingham were credited with assists for the Junior Blues.
WASHBURN RURAL 4, FREE STATE 1
Free State (10-6-1) 0 1 -- 1
Washburn Rural (17-1-0) 3 1 -- 4
Free State -- Goal: Cameron Stutler.
Washburn Rural -- Goals: Devon Rutschmann 2, Griffin Heinen, own goal. Assists: Cohen Nimz, Liam Morrison, Dylan Willingham.