Road-warrior Wildcats dump ReitzOctober 5, 2017
By COLIN LIKAS
EVANSVILLE — Perhaps someone should purchase a “Will travel to play” sign for the Jasper boys soccer team. After all, coach Kyle Kendall jokingly referred to his squad as a group of “nomads” as a result of the Wildcats jumping from one sectional to another in recent years.
A lengthy drive before playing didn’t seem to bother Jasper on Wednesday, as the Wildcats advanced to the Class 3A Evansville North Sectional final with a 3-1 victory over Evansville Reitz.
“It’s just part of the game,” Kendall said of his team participating in its fourth different sectional over the last seven seasons after hosting one from 2004 through 2010. “Sometimes you’re more focused when you get off the bus than you are for a home game. Sometimes that bus ride is the best therapy to get ready to play.”
That theory appeared to apply to the Wildcats (9-8) in Wednesday’s semifinal, as they swarmed the Panthers from the opening whistle and rarely let up. But preparing for an 8 p.m. start after an hour’s worth of travel wasn’t as simple as Jasper made it look, especially early against the Panthers (7-9-1).
“You have that mentality throughout the whole school day, and you’ve also got to stay focused on your schooling so you don’t get bad grades,” said senior Tyler Hunt, who broke the ice with about 13 minutes to play in the first half by converting a penalty kick.
“That’s the hard part,” fellow upperclassman Josue Dubon said with a laugh.
Though Dubon will never be the biggest athlete on the field, checking in at 5-foot-3, his willingness to engage in physical play led to Hunt’s penalty chance. Dubon at one point was tightly defended by Reitz senior Luke Oberholtzer, leading to jawing between the two and even a small shove by Dubon. But Oberholtzer’s defense, not Dubon’s push, was called by officials and led to a Jasper free kick.
“They started it, so there’s nothing I can do about it,” Dubon said. “I could keep my head in the game, and clearly they couldn’t keep it.”
The free kick resulted in a Panther penalty in the box, generating Hunt’s scoring chance.
“It was a lot of pressure on me, but I’ve learned throughout the years in travel (soccer), from watching my peers ... just take PKs,” Hunt said. “I just got up there and ... comfortably took it.”
What transpired in that sequence didn’t necessarily cut down on Reitz’s aggression, though, as Oberholtzer and Matthew Yurks were both handed a yellow card late in regulation. Oberholtzer was simultaneously given a red card as well, forcing him from the game.
Dubon said he isn’t out trying to get in opponents’ heads, but that he’s glad the Wildcats’ ability to stay cool under pressure proved beneficial.
“I love playing the game, and this is my happy place,” he said. “But when someone is hitting you, you just have to let them know, ‘Slow down, I’m not the ball.’”
Reitz did find the ball — and the back of the net — with less than eight minutes to play in the first half. One of its few sustained passing sequences of the night ended with sophomore Nevin Hobgood striking the twine for a 1-1 tie.
The near-immediate response to Jasper’s PK goal did not deflate the Wildcats, however.
“They did a nice job of staying positive in the second half, knowing we were going to get the opportunity for put more in,” Kendall said. “Just nice composure in the second half putting the ball away.”
Much of that was keyed by sophomore Jackson Kabrick, who continually got behind the Reitz defenders in the latter 40 minutes while sprinting up the pitch’s far side. He later wound up potting the eventual winning goal from the other side of the field, putting Jasper ahead 2-1 in the second half’s 24th minute, while also setting up Angelino Dubon’s insurance goal five minutes later with a cross into the box.
Kabrick deflected praise for his performance, saying a team mentality led to the goals.
“We’ve got a lot of big egos on our team, and this last part of the season we’ve liked to work together,” he said.
“We know it’s not about personal stats. We want to come out, work together as a team, get our goals and get the W for us.”
Not a personal statistic, but a team one was perhaps most indicative of the Wildcats’ offensive control on the night: They attempted eight corner kicks to the Panthers’ one in the second half alone.
“We were able to get behind in the gaps, and we attacked the gaps all day long. The end-line run over and over and over just worked,” Kendall said. “Those opportunities, as much as (the Panthers) were knocking balls away, they were there. Eventually, one of them was going to get knocked in.”
Kabrick said Jasper’s effort resulted in “one of our best possession games” this season. For a team with four losses coming by one goal apiece, consistently carrying the ball is a point of emphasis in the postseason.
Jasper’s playoff run continues Saturday with a rematch against 3A No. 6 Castle (13-4-1), this time with a sectional championship on the line. The Knights defeated the Wildcats 6-0 on Sept. 23 in Newburgh and have already played two sectional contests, winning them by a combined 15-2 margin.
“I don’t think we can come out any flatter than we did (in the loss). That’s the good news,” Kendall said. “We all know we’re a better team than what we showed them the first time, and we’re going to come out, we’re going to play better than that (Saturday).”
That’s not just coach speak, either. Jasper’s players believe in that course of action as well.
“We want it,” Josue Dubon said. “We want it bad.”
“We’re going to go at it,” Hunt added.
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