Offense cools, but Cat 'D’ still shines

Oliva Corya/The Herald
Forest Park’s Adam Braunecker had little room to maneuver in the corner as Jasper’s Derek Schmitt and Michael Flynn converged on defense in Thursday’s matchup between county rivals in Bretzville. The Wildcats won 1-0 for their fourth shutout in an eight-day span. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

BRETZVILLE — Caleb Williams’ coach warned him about this happening.

After coming into Thursday night’s showdown with Forest Park on an offensive binge — 29 goals in its last three matches — Jasper continued the feverish attack, pinging passes and dicing defenders in an opening 20 minutes dominated by the visiting Wildcats.

Yet herein lied the problem. Jasper’s chances equated to zero goals in the segment. Its midfield began creeping up, leaving an exposed back line.


Flash forward, and Reed Stetter headed a ball clear of Jasper’s goal line with five minutes to play in Bretzville, eventually preserving a 1-0 win for the Wildcats in a heated contest that emphasized one clear message: Possession numbers aside, a one-goal lead is never safe.

“We had two easy games (coming in), where opportunities were just flowing,” said Williams, alluding to 13-0 wins against Princeton and Mount Carmel. “And I think the first 20 minutes, we had that same mentality. We had opportunities everywhere. And then we kept going with that and forgot about playing defense. And when we didn’t get as many goals as we wanted, we got frustrated, and our gameplan kind of fell apart and it just became chaos from there.”

The two teams entered the contest on very different paths: Jasper, winners of three straight with its mind-boggling goal output, and Forest Park, tumbling on a four-game losing streak.

Less than two minutes into the match, the Wildcats had their first of many quality scoring chances, as Kyle Thimling rang the left post on a low whistler from just outside the 18-yard box — one of 12 Jasper shots in the first half. Edgar Chevez and Thimling penetrated the flanks without interruption, while Williams continually distributed to the outsides and collaborated centrally with forward Nathan Helsley.

“The outside (midfielders) were playing extremely well,” Jasper coach Kyle Kendall said. “We were getting the ball on the overlapping run and it was just a matter of time before we get a goal, right? Just a matter of time, a matter of time.”


Finally, in the 26th minute, Jarrett Tedrow seemingly ran the ball into the net amid commotion in the box following Michael Flynn’s 35-yard free kick.

The unstable lead coerced the Wildcats (7-3-3) to drift from their approach, Kendall said.

“We got a little selfish once we started to smell blood,” he said. “My fear was that we were going to dominate so well in the first 20 minutes that we would get comfortable and leave our defense hung out to dry. And we left them hung out to dry a few times and they nearly made us pay for it.”

While Forest Park (5-7) advanced sluggishly in the opening frame, players appeared revitalized in the second half, Ranger coach Brent Sicard said.

“At halftime, I kind of let them have it a little bit about letting Jasper do whatever they wanted to do,” Sicard said. “Collectively, I thought our energy was a little better (in the second half). You’ve got to find your motivation from within and from your teammates. It was good to see a little bit of a turnaround there.”

The persistence came inches from paying off during a Ranger blitz in the waning minutes. When Adam Braunecker lofted a ball over charging Wildcat goalkeeper Cameron Craven from a few yards out, it appeared as if the hosts had found the equalizer. Yet Stetter popped the ball over the crossbar as he himself barreled full-speed into the net.

“The littlest guy on the field making the biggest play of the game,” Kendall said. “To head a ball out, I don’t know how he got to it, but he got it out. … That’s a big play at a crucial moment of the game.”

It also served as a microcosm of the defensive effort all night, and all season, Kendall added. Derek Schmitt, Dillon Tuell, Flynn and Stetter remained strong, even as midfielders began cheating forward to augment the attack. The Rangers’ final push ended with Schmitt stuffing a Ben Englert drive from atop the box, preserving Jasper’s fourth straight shutout.

And holding the lead carries added significance given past results this season for Jasper, which squandered final-minute goals in a 3-2 overtime win over Boonville, a 1-0 loss to South Bend Adams and a 3-3 tie against Evansville Harrison.

“Our kids did a nice job of closing this out even though it wasn’t the prettiest way to end it,” said Kendall, who also gave kudos to Tuell for his consistency. “That’s been kind of a focal point the last few weeks. ... Luckily we’ve addressed them and we got through them tonight.”

For the Rangers, whose five-game win streak earlier in the season has now been succeeded by a five-game funk, all is not lost, as winning their three remaining Pocket Athletic Conference matches would still crown them as champions.

“To be able to take a little bit of positive at the end there was important,” Sicard said. “A ball gets cleared off the line, otherwise it’s a tie score. Granted it’s still a loss, but to have something positive to move forward with is huge for us.”

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