Jasper falls in rivalry with new feel, same fire

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — A mere seven minutes passed before Washington drew first blood. Literally.

Following Jasper defender Michael Flynn’s well-executed slide tackle to obstruct Washington’s forward push, a Hatchet midfielder’s cleat met Flynn’s mouth, cutting his lip.

The senior assured coach Kyle Kendall there was no blood — there actually was, and he changed the soiled jersey at halftime — and Flynn marched on.


For Flynn, taking himself out of the Washington game, on his senior night, to boot, was simply not an option. That was a sentiment shared by all eight Jasper seniors, whose efforts helped bring the Wildcats to within literal inches of evening the score before Washington escaped with a 1-0 win on Thursday night at the Jasper High School Soccer Complex.

The Wildcats (8-4-3, 4-2) and Hatchets both entered the contest with just an outside chance of sharing the Big Eight Conference crown, a hope that helped establish the rivalry’s on-field tone. Both sides administered healthy prescriptions of physical force, with excess doses resulting in four yellow cards.

“It’s the most physical game we’ve played in all year,” Flynn said. “I feel like it always is, just with the rivalry.”

Clean, hearty hits were plentiful as well, evidenced most vividly by a three-man collision between Jasper’s Dillon Tuell and Reed Stetter and Washington’s Austin Ghirardelli in the second half. For 80 minutes, both squads brushed aside conference standings. And that’s Jasper-Washington.

“This game has mattered long before these kids were even born,” Kendall said. “This has always been the biggest game of the year for us. … (The conference scenario) didn’t lessen the intensity at all.”

The Hatchets (9-2-4, 5-1) needed only a 35-yard set piece 11 minutes into the contest to tally the game-winner. Blaine Arney’s free kick was first headed off the post before Austin Bush corralled the ball as it pinballed through the box. Blasting it from some seven yards out, Bush gave Washington all the ammunition it needed.

For Jasper, its inability to score stemmed not from a sense of defeat but from the contrary: too much energy. Forgetting to slow down, forgetting to possess and, quite simply, forgetting to exhale, Kendall said.

“There are times when you want to attack with speed and there are times where you just need to take a breath,” he said. “We just struggled putting together quality possessions because we’re trying to go 100 miles per hour.”


Jasper goalkeeping was crucial in keeping the deficit at one. Goalie Kirk Stenftenagel maintained composure in the first half, at one point getting drilled in the air while still managing to hold possession. Cameron Craven replaced Stenftenagel in the second half, and was every bit as spectacular. He elevated to snag one of Arney’s free kicks into the box, devoured a low shot on a diving save with just under 14 minutes to play, and redirected a screaming liner over the crossbar in the game’s final minutes.

In an attempt to augment the attack, the Wildcats moved to a more attacking style with about 17 minutes to play and began occupying longer stretches of time in the Hatchet defensive third.

“They started running on us, and we had to make some adjustments and move some guys back to contain them,” said Washington coach Quintin Myers, who mentioned the play of Kyle Thimling in particular.

With just under four minutes to play, Jasper’s formation adjustment almost paid off, as Reed Stetter laced a rocket toward goal, only to have it shave the crossbar for Jasper’s last legitimate scoring chance.

Yet while the game held distinct significance, it’s vital to keep in perspective the truth that’s so often forgotten, Kendall said. This is but one game.

“It’s a matter of teaching these kids that their whole career doesn’t come down to one game if you lose,” Kendall said. “I see some kids out on the field right now that their whole career came down to losing to Washington. ... They’ve had amazing careers, but in their minds they still look back at that one game.”

Regular-season contests still to come against Evansville North and Bloomington South should help to shift the focus and serve as useful tuneups for sectional, Thimling said.

“They’re top-notch teams, so we’re going to have to play really hard,” Thimling said. “But our team has come a long way.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.

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