Facing Highland Park on senior night at Bishop Stadium, the Manhattan High boys’ soccer team was all smiles by the time the game ended midway through the second period Thursday night.
While winning 10-0 over the Scots made for a fun-filled evening, what really had the team in good spirits was the way it ended.
Senior midfielder Matt Liotta, a captain and three-year member of the varsity squad, scored the 10th goal of the night to invoke the mercy rule over Highland Park.
It was the first goal of his career.
“The goal is anti-Matt Liotta,” senior Peter Maier joked. “He never scores, but especially with him being sick (earlier in the week), I’m sure he feels a lot better now.”
Liotta took the good-natured ribbing like a champ, admitting that perhaps goal-scoring isn’t his strong-suit.
“I’ve played varsity for three years, so it was nice to finally get a goal and relieve some pressure and stress,” Liotta said. “I’ve definitely had some chances. I wouldn’t say goal-scoring is one of my greatest strengths, so it was nice to punch one in. And I know my teammates and coaches got a good kick out of it, too, so it was fun.”
Manhattan coach Frank Alonso was appreciative of his senior class.
“They’re a phenomenal group of guys,” Alonso said. “They’ve put the younger players under their wings and have done a nice job of incorporating the younger players into the mix. They’re just a great group.”
Liotta’s goal came in the 13th minute of the second half. The team’s other nine goals came in the first half.
After eight minutes to start the game without a goal, Manhattan turned it on from there. Maier got the first goal on a nice assist by Jonathan Turnley in the ninth minute. Eric Gray would score the first of his three goals just 28 seconds later to make it 2-0.
Kodi Minocha scored in the 11th minute, with Gray getting the next two goals, the first on a ball from Liotta, and the second on a breakaway.
In the 29th minute, Kirkland Lambert got a goal on a ball from Turnley, with Brandon Religa scoring back-to-back goals in the 33rd minute just 22 seconds apart, the first of which came on an assist by Turnley.
Defender Adam Gray scored the ninth goal on another ball from Turnley with 3:22 to play in the first period.
Turnley’s four assists give him 27 for his career, breaking the previous mark of 25 by Mike Kifer set in 2001.
“It feels great, but I’ve had a lot of help from my teammates,” Turnley said. “I’ve had a lot of forwards in Peter (Maier) and Eric (Gray) to play with the past couple years, and some of the younger guys helping, too.”
Senior Eli Herrera said the team can build off a big win, especially with the playoffs just around the corner.
“It’s good to have these kind of nights to get ready for playoffs,” he said. “We want to finish strong and play games like this.”
With road games against Topeka West on Monday and Junction City on Thursday next week, Manhattan (10-3-1) has a good chance to finish with 12 wins.
“It’s important these last few games to finish strong,” Turnley said. “We should be a favorite to win all of them, but we still need to play well and take that energy into the playoffs.”
Alonso think this group can do big things over the next three weeks.
“They’re a special group,” Alonso said. “They’re not just good soccer players, but good guys, and they deserve all the success they’ve had over the last few years. We’ve got a chance to keep going the next few weeks. It’s theirs for the taking.”