Jasper beats Harrison, captures sectional crown

Photo by Hendrix Magley

Special to The Herald

EVANSVILLE – For the Jasper boys soccer seniors, what happened on Saturday afternoon at the EVSC Fields in Evansville felt like a long time coming.

While the Wildcats are no strangers to winning sectional championships (they’ve won six total since the program began in 1986), the current crop of upperclassmen were only in seventh grade the last time Jasper got to hoist a sectional trophy.

Well, not anymore.

The Wildcats (11-4-4) outlasted Evansville Harrison (8-7-3) 5-1 to claim the program’s first sectional title since 2014. They’ll advance to the regional in Seymour next Saturday where they’ll face Southport (14-4).

“Us seniors have put in so much time and we’ve been practicing since the summer all for this,” said Jackson Kabrick. “It’s great to come out here and get a win.”

Fellow senior Brian Elizarraras added: “There’s a lot of happy emotions right now. All the stuff we did to get here, it just feels like a miracle with all of the hard work we put in.”

Jasper head coach Kyle Kendall recalls the Wildcats going through a bit of a rough patch at the beginning of the season. While their record wasn’t rough by any means, there were just a few games the Cats felt had the potential to go their way early on but the tide turned against them.

Kendall wanted the team to use that to their advantage as he was well-aware they’d have some close games in the postseason. It’s safe to say the team did exactly that.

“This was a team that started 2-2-2 on the season and we kept telling the guys that you have to learn from these games,” Kendall said. “We kept saying those close games would pay off and really to get through this sectional, we had to win a lot of close games. The growth of this team – that’s what it’s all about, I’m just so proud of what they’ve done.”

Jasper defeated Reitz 2-0 in the opening round and fought back to beat Castle 2-1 in the semifinal, a team that had been a thorn in their side as the Knights had knocked them out of the postseason the past two years. While the final score at Saturday’s game may have read 5-1, it sure felt a lot closer than that.

Elizarraras got the scoring started as he cleaned up a missed shot on a corner within the first five minutes of the game for a 1-0 lead. After scoring the two goals in the Cats victory over the Knights, he knew it was important to put themselves on the scoreboard first this time around.

“I felt like that made them adjust to our style of play, not the other way around,” Elizarraras said. “We had to play the same type of game we’ve been playing all season.”

Jasper upped its lead to 2-0 right before halftime as Kabrick booted a penalty kick into the back of the net. However, the Wildcats weren’t going to be satisfied with that lead. During the regular season, the Wildcats and Warriors played to a 3-3 tie. The score at halftime of that game? 2-0 Jasper.

The Wildcats played with a purpose right out of the gate in the second half as sophomore Sam Leonard found the back of the net for a 3-0 lead. But the Warriors wouldn’t go away quietly as shortly after junior Connor Wilson cleaned up a miss off of a free kick to trim the lead to 3-1.

“As soon as they made it 3-1, we knew we had to respond,” Kendall said. “Then we did exactly that as Jackson (Kabrick) got two goals in two minutes or whatever it was.”

It was a good estimate by Kendall but it was actually a lot quicker than that – 30 seconds, in fact.

After Kabrick stretched Jasper’s lead to 4-1 less than a minute after Harrison’s goal, the Wildcats came back down on the Warriors side again where Kabrick found the back of the net for his third goal of the game to give Jasper a 5-1 advantage.

“The (Boston) Red Sox used to say that Manny (Ramirez) was just being Manny, well for us that’s just Jackson being Jackson,” said Kendall on Kabrick’s performance. “After they made it 3-1, you could kind of just see that he was like ‘Alright, I’ve had enough of this.’ The leadership he has, he just knows how to make plays.”

Kabrick added: “Honestly, I just want to congratulate my teammates – they’re the ones who set me up for those goals.”

Even with a sectional championship in hand, the Wildcats aren’t satisfied yet. They’re hoping to travel to Seymour to come away with some more hardware against some very tough opponents.

What does Jasper need to do to keep their winning ways alive? Get back to basics.

“We’ve got seven days to get ready for this game, we’ve just go to back to the simple drills we’ve been doing all season so we don’t lose focus,” Kendall said. “We’ve just got to do the little things right and make sure we’re focused.”

But right now?

“We’re just going to enjoy this one for a bit,” Kendall said with a laugh. “Then, we’ll get back to work.”

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