Cardinals remain optimistic despite 3-0 De Soto loss
The Eudora soccer team circled De Soto alone among its long list of 2006 opponents. Coaches Matt Higgins and Paul Thevarajoo said beating the Wildcats would play a huge role in their plan to take Eudora from a perennial bottom dweller to the top of Class 4A.
The team's first opportunity to knock off De Soto came and went Thursday, however, as the Cats again bested the Cardinals (1-1-1), 3-0.
Still, Higgins and Thevarajoo were plenty happy to point out it wasn't all bad.
A match up decided by the mercy rule every year of Eudora's existence prior to 2005, and a game that while closer, still wasn't close in two '05 meetings, Thursday's three goal loss is the closest game the two programs have ever played.
With a long and difficult schedule still stretched in front of the team and the overall goal of finishing .500 still achievable, the coaches had little trouble deciding there was still plenty to smile about.
"It's OK," Thevarajoo said after the game. "We lacked the intensity in the first half. It was a tough game and there was a little let down of emotion in the first half. In the second half we came back strong."
De Soto scored the only goal it would end up needing early in the first half. Zach England, the team's leading scorer, cut through the center of the Cardinal defense and found his way in front of the goal, delivering the Cats a 1-0 lead with a shot in the upper, rear corner of the net.
Though a fierce Cardinal defense kept England from adding to the lead, he still managed to pick up assists on the Cats' other two goals.
Late in the first half he played a ball through traffic to junior Scott McKechnie, who knocked a slow, high shot into the Cardinal net and early in the second half TJ Blankenship played an England rebound into the game's final score.
It was three goals more than Eudora could muster, but the Cardinals and the Cats both agreed afterward that it could have easily been a much different game.
While Eudora fell behind 2-0 in the first half and generally played with less enthusiasm than the second, a stiff defense led by junior Anthony Barta and senior David Westerhouse kept the game close.
The Cats controlled the tempo through most of the first half, but Westerhouse repeatedly blunted Wildcat attacks while Barta withstood a barrage of shots. De Soto put up 21 shots and only three made it through.
"Their keeper did a phenomenal job. If not for him it could have been 6-0," De Soto coach Darren Erpelding said. "Eudora has more athletes than they've had in the past. They're just a better team all the way around. They're going to give some people some fits this season."
But for a couple inches one way or another, the Cardinals could have given the Cats a fit. Eudora came into the second half much more aggressive than it ended the first and it nearly paid off on the scoreboard. Connor Hartpence just missed on a number of shots and one Eudora attempt went between the De Soto keeper's legs, slowly bouncing off a post and away from the goal.
"He had a spark underneath him," Higgins said of Hartpence. "He was ready to play. He played hard the whole game and he didn't give up. He could have kept his head down, but he got over it and got some more shots on goal."
Eudora will have a second shot at De Soto on Oct. 19 in the last game of the regular season, but for now the Cardinals said they'll concentrate on causing problems for the rest of their schedule. Eudora had a week off after the De Soto game, and Higgins said the team spent the time fine-tuning conditioning.
The Cards return to action at 4 p.m. Thursday as they play Turner in Eudora.
"One thing this team needed to change was the mental aspect," Thevarajoo said. "They were losing for so long that it's easy to slip into.
"We've come a long ways. It's a process, but we definitely have a good jumpstart. Only good things will come after this."