Indians edge Blue Jays to advance

By Grant Guggisberg

JUNCTION CITY — For the first time all evening, the otherwise raucous crowd at Al Simpler Stadium fell silent.

The Manhattan High and Junction City girls’ soccer teams had been trading penalty kicks to determine which team would advance to the state quarterfinals next week in the Class 6A playoffs, and Manhattan needed just one more to seal the win.

Head coach Mike Sanchez turned to sophomore Kelli Stockton, who connected on a goal just out of the reach of Junction City goalkeeper Erika Goodwin to send the Indians into a frenzy of celebration.

Normally not a focus in practice, Manhattan worked on penalty kicks Monday to be ready for an ending like this, giving Sanchez some insight on which five girls would be up to the task.

“We actually worked on PKs on Monday,” Sanchez said. “So we all went through to see who was up to it, and it was hard because we only took two or three shots, but we went off of that a little bit. Our last shooter, it was huge for Kelli to step up and put that away.”

Converting on four of five penalty kicks to Junction City’s three, Manhattan ended the game with a 1-0 lead after the teams played 110 minutes of soccer (two regulation periods and four overtime periods) without a goal. In a war between the Indians’ aggressive offense and the Blue Jays’ stout defense, no clear winner was determined.

Both teams had chances, however.

Manhattan nearly had the game won with a goal in the fourth overtime by Emma Samenus, but an offside call wiped it off the board. Manhattan got another good chance a minute later with Junction City goalkeeper Lily Thornburg out of position, but Savannah Roberts’ shot was too tall.

Most of the Manhattan fans in attendance were unhappy with the offside call on what looked to be a legit goal.

“Things happen,” Sanchez said. “It was a bang-bang play, it happened really fast. (The official) is on the other side of the field, so he’s in a difficult position to see that. They called a great game.”

With no score after four overtimes, the pressure fell squarely on the shoulders of the two goalkeepers and 10 shooters for penalty kicks.

“It’s definitely the most stressful thing,” Manhattan defender Jennifer Then said of PKs. “It’s like anything goes, either way. It’s really scary, but we have the confidence on our team to know we’ll make our PKs.”

Willie Stockton, who had the unenviable task of taking the first Manhattan penalty kick, said the loud Junction City student section made things that much tougher. The Blue Jay players did their best to hush the fans so Goodwin could focus as well, but some fans still shouted during the wind up for each kick.

“They were pretty disrespectful,” Stockton said. “Our student section was quiet when they were kicking. You try to block it out, but being the first one, it was tough.”

After a 1-0 Manhattan (13-4) win over Junction City last week that was 30 seconds away from ending in a tie, the end result Thursday was no surprise.

Junction City (13-4) center back Cassidy Meadows led a defense that proved to be impenetrable for Manhattan. The Indians did their best to work it away from the sophomore, but her closing speed and skill made the task extremely difficult.

“What we were trying to do is draw her in, because we felt like she’s the cog, the key piece, in that defense,” Sanchez said. “If we could draw her out, we’d have more opportunities to finish. In the first half, we had opportunities and just weren’t able to capitalize. She’s great, she’s got great vision. Our girls kept fighting and they were persistent.”

Much like last week’s game, and most matchups between Junction City and Manhattan, the game was physical, with both teams getting plenty of fouls and the Blue Jays drawing a yellow card.

“Everything is so intense between Junction City and Manhattan in every sport,” Sanchez said. “We know we’re going to get their best game, and I think they know the same.”

After colliding with a Junction City defender in the first period, Then came out of the game with a knee injury. She didn’t return to game action and even had taken her cleats off, but put them back on in time to connect on the third penalty kick.

“My knee is just twisted,” Then said. “I was scared that I tore my ACL, but I think we’re good. I didn’t know I was allowed to shoot, but he told me I could.”

With Then taking most of Manhattan’s set kicks, the injury forced the Indians to make some lineup changes. Forward Par McNair moved to the back line for most of the night, with Alli Taylor, Courtney Payne and Lani Fischer stepping up to fill in for Then.

“Fortunately for us, we have a lot of players that can play multiple positions,” Sanchez said. “Par, early on in the year, started off in the back and played in the back last year. We have a dynamic team in that they have the ability to play multiple positions.”

Despite coming out on top after the penalty kicks, assistant coach Sam Cool would have liked to see the game be settled in regulation.

“We didn’t really want it to come down to PKs, but I’m so proud of the way they handled it,” Cool said. “They stayed calm and we’re kind of used to adversity by now, this season has been full of it. I think the girls really supported each other and we’re really proud.”

Early on, Manhattan had several chances in the first period but couldn’t connect despite seven shots on goal.

The second period saw Junction City with more shots than the Indians. Midway through the second period, the Blue Jays got a nice ball off a corner kick, but Manhattan keeper Molly Fiser was able to get her fingertips on the ball and it bounced off the crossbar to keep the game scoreless.

Fiser finished with nine saves, while Thornburg finished with 13.

With the regional final win, Manhattan moves on to host Wichita Heights (13-5) Tuesday in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. at Anneberg Park. A win there would give the Indians their second state berth in the last three years and would be the first trip for the team under Sanchez.

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