Chieftains come back to tie defending KVL champs
It wasn't completely ideal, but coach Ken Lott liked what he saw from his team in its home opener on Thursday evening.
The Tonganoxie High boys soccer team, which entered the contest winless and left the same way, continued to show improvement. Although the Chieftains didn't get the victory they desired, they battled defending Kaw Valley League champion Basehor-Linwood to a 2-2 tie and played inspired soccer in spurts.
THS, down 2-1 late in the second half following a goal by the Bobcats' Beau Himpel, looked deflated for a few minutes before finding the resolve to come back and tie the game - and they did it just in time. In the 78th minute, senior Bruce Oregel, who had just re-entered the match via substitution, got a chance to show off his skills. Oregel bent a shot from right to left that tied the game with 2:24 left on the game clock, eventually sending the match to overtime.
Lott said coming back from a deficit in a game that THS once led was important for the team.
"That's something that the kids wanted pretty badly," he said of the comeback. "That's something I have been looking for the last couple of years, which we haven't (previously) been able to do."
The coach said his Chieftains (0-2-1) have more confidence and chemistry than past years.
"This is a totally different team," Lott said. "Most people, even the fans, could tell that."
Even in a scoreless first half, THS showed some grit at Chieftain Park. The Tonganoxie defense was led by the goalkeeping of Mitch DeHoff, who was always in the right place, extending and punching away Bobcat shot attempts. The junior's best save of the night came on a free kick in the first half when DeHoff dove to his right to thwart a would-be goal.
"Obviously, he's the best man for the job," Lott said of DeHoff. "His play was tremendous."
The team's defense, Lott said, has gotten better thanks to the physical abilities of junior defenders Kenny Schultz, Keaton Schaffer and Bret Koch.
Offensively, however, the Chieftains entered the match scoreless through two games. They had been shut out through the first 200 minutes of the season, but that streak ended at 203 minutes when, in the 43rd minute of Thursday's game, senior Jamison Bloomer perfectly placed a corner kick that Smith headed into the back of the net, giving THS its first lead of the year, 1-0.
Less than nine minutes later, BLHS countered with a goal of its own when Tanner Bowers tied the contest on a penalty kick following a THS hand ball.
The match remained tied, 1-1, until the 66th minute when Himpel got a chance to go one-on-one against DeHoff. As the Bobcat streaked toward the goal, Smith came in to help out DeHoff, jumping in front of Himpel just as he fired. The shot went over Smith's head, though, and into the net, giving the Bobcats their first lead of the contest.
Following Oregel's heroics which sent the game to overtime, the rivals played two 10-minute periods, but neither found the golden goal that would have meant victory and the game ended in a tie.
Lott said THS, which finished 2-15 last year, is making huge steps in the right direction.
"If you think about the last couple of years, we've had some not so fortunate games in our league," he said. "This year it's a totally new outlook on how we want to play and what we want to do."
Tonganoxie was scheduled to play Atchison on Monday night, but the game was postponed due to wet field conditions. The Chieftains travel Thursday to Perry to take on Perry-Lecompton for a 6 p.m. match with the Kaws.