Jasper storms Castle, advances to sectional final

Photos by Kaiti Sullivan/The Herald
Jasper's Quentin Harmon snags the ball during Wednesday's boys soccer sectional at the EVSC Soccer Complex in Evansville. Jasper defeated Castle 2-1. For more photos from the game, click here.


EVANSVILLE — Jasper coach Kyle Kendall thought his team got the worst of it from Castle in the first half of Wednesday night’s Class 3A sectional semifinal game at Harrison.


“The first twenty minutes they kicked our butts,” he said. “There’s no nice way to put it.”

The boys had their hands full trying to fend off the Knights, who seemed to blanket the entire field, while struggling to make their charges and establish some of their own offense. They suffered an early setback, but the Wildcats held firm in the face of Castle’s pressure. And by doing so, they found the shots they needed to rally back and knock off the defending sectional champion Knights, 2-1.

Kendall was frank about how the Wildcats (10-4-4, 4-1) started the game, but he was just as forthcoming with praise after the boys turned the tables on the Knights (10-4-3, 6-1)

“It was all about weathering the storm, making adjustments and staying with the game plan,” said Kendall. “We had to make some adjustments on the fly, I ended up on Plan W. We were able to talk about it as a staff, in the second half the boys went out and did exactly what we asked them to do.”

The Knights were a swarming force at the start of the game. They were first to nearly all of the 50-50 balls, deliberate in their advances up the field and crowded the passing lanes for the Wildcats. Their tenacity paid off in short order when junior striker Christian Velasquez shot a missile into Jasper’s goal ten minutes into the game.

Senior midfielder Brian Elizarraras punched in two goals Wednesday night to help the Wildcats move past Castle, 2-1. The Wildcats will face Evansville Harrison in the Class 3A sectional final on Saturday. For more photos from the game, click here.

The Knights kept the pressure on, but the Wildcats increased their intensity levels to keep pace. Jasper’s defenses held firm against further advances from Castle, while the counter attacks were ranging deeper into the Knights' territory on the other end. Finally, the Wildcats were able to find paydirt as senior midfielder Brian Elizarraras slipped through the Knights’ line and scored the tying goal with just over two minutes left in the first half.

Filled with new life after forcing a tie before halftime, the Wildcat coaches went right to work with tweaking the team’s approach for the second half. Their initial plan to take away the long passes from the Knights was voided by Castle’s blitzing playstyle, so the Wildcats decided to set their defense further down the field and make the Knights have to work through a wall.

“We decided to sit back a little more, stop pressing so high and make them come at us” said Kendall.

There was a noticeable difference in the game’s texture following the change. The Knights weren’t able to press as aggressively as they did in the first forty minutes, and the Wildcats started seizing control of the proceedings. With fortune in their favor, it looked like the Wildcats would finally take the lead after sophomore midfielder Sam Leonard beat the defense, but an offsides call negated what would have been the go-ahead score. However, Jasper couldn’t be denied forever as they mounted another charge a few minutes after the no-goal.

Senior midfielder Khale Burger lured Castle’s junior goalkeeper Nigel Stoltz into a one-on-one faceoff. But as Stoltz rushed to meet him, Burger spotted Elizarraras in front of the empty net, made a pinpoint pass and Elizarraras finished the rest to give Jasper a 2-1 lead with just over twenty-seven minutes remaining. The defense held tight for the rest of the game, and Jasper succeeded in punching their ticket to Saturday’s sectional final against Evansville Harrison.

“They came out 100 percent, and we came out 100 percent, it kind of messed us up,” said Elizarraras. “After that we got together, put our heads in the game and that’s what got us the win.”

“When we tied it up we knew we had a second chance to catch up,” added Burger. “We just upped our intensity and pressured the ball more.”

While the team is grateful to get back to the sectional final, and having the privilege of knocking off the team that beat them in last year’s title game, the Wildcats are now focused on using the next couple of days of practice in the most productive way possible.

“They didn’t hand anything out tonight,” said Kendall. “We beat Castle, we didn’t win sectional. We got a couple of days to get ready, we’ll be focused.”

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