The Blue Springs South boys soccer team got what it wanted – a rematch with No. 2 state-ranked Rockhurst.
The last three seasons, the Jaguars advanced to the sectional round of the Class 4 state tournament. All three times the perennial powerhouse Hawklets eliminated the Jaguars from the tournament.
Would 2017 yield a different result?
Not this time.
Although South played an excellent game defensively while goalkeeper Keavin Hart was constantly under duress, it couldn’t manage a single shot against host Rockhurst in a 2-0 loss Tuesday at Dasta Stadium.
“We knew we would have a hard time maintaining our attack,” Hart said. “They’re really good and put a lot of numbers up top. I have so much respect for their soccer program. They train their players well.”
The Hawklets, on the other hand, had 23 shots (11 on goal) and spent the majority of the time on South’s side of the field. Any time the Jaguars tried to possess the ball, Rockhurst usually pried it away and started a counterattack. South managed to push the ball into the Rockhurst penalty box three times, but the Hawklet defense was too strong for South to get a shot off.
“They pressed everyone on the field,” Jaguars coach Jon Grice said of Rockhurst. “They pressure your back line, they pressure your midfield and they pressure you up top.
“They don’t give you a lot of time. They take away the single option and it makes it tough on you. They are one of the best teams in the state.”
Even though the Hawklets launched a barrage of shots at the South goal, Hart and the rest of the defense made things tough for them. Even on a pair of occasions in which Hart was caught out of position, defenders Brett Vaughn and Trae Rickman were there to knock the ball away when it came close to crossing the goal line.
“I have so much respect for my defenders,” Hart said. “They work their butts off day in and day out and every minute of this game. I give the credit to my defenders, not me. Zion had one (knock away) that saved me. He said, ‘I got you.’”
But Hart helped keep the game scoreless at halftime with some aggressive play. He knocked away two point-blank shots early, won a challenge with Jacob Amey flying toward the goal from the left wing as he dove and collected the ball, and he made a diving stop on a rocket off the foot of Frank Barry.
“We knew we had to defend well,” Grice said. “Keavin, on top of that, did what he did all year – he kept us in games. Our back four plus Brett did a good job tracking their players and not giving up easy shots. We had one breakdown early in the second half that let them in.”
Grice was referring to Rockhurst’s goal in the 43rd minute when George Marty sent a cross right in front of the goalmouth and Amey made a perfect run to punch it in.
Hart, who finished with nine saves, continued to deny the Hawklets, including one hard-hit shot that was heading under the crossbar until he leaped backward and snagged it. But the Hawklets put it away with 9:16 left when Amey sent a cross to Kyle Ruark near the top of the box. Ruark drilled it inside the top right corner for the 2-0 lead.
“That’s a shot that I don’t know anyone saves,” Grice said of Ruark’s goal.
Grice added that he couldn’t have asked for a better effort from his players and noted that he gave an emotional message to his players following another heartbreaking sectional exit.
“I’m pleased with their effort,” Grice said. “They battled here and they battled all year. It’s always tough to end your season on a loss, but these guys don’t have anything to hang their heads about.
“I told my seniors thanks. They’ve been doing this for four years in a row now. We’ve had a lot of benchmarks and this was another benchmark season. There is nothing that I can say to them right now to make them feel better about it. I wanted them to know that I love them.”