The final home game for the Junction City Blue Jays soccer team ends with a 4-1 loss to the visiting Emporia Spartans.
The fact that the team made it through their entire 2020 campaign without ending it early due to COVID-19 was a testament to the resolve of not only the team, but the opponents they faced throughout.
“There's some spring athletes of the 2020 year that did not get to play their season they didn't get a senior night,” head coach Allan McFarland said. “We got to come out here we got to play on Al Simpler, one more time. And we competed, we had a good time. It was awesome to see those seven seniors, some of them, maybe one year here, some here for four years. So, it's a very special bunch. I love that group to death and I'm just I'm excited that we all got an opportunity to play and enjoy our senior night.”
Thursday night’s contest started strong for the Jays as they matched up well with the Emporia squad. They stayed tight on passes and fought for 50-50 balls throughout the opening minutes of the games. Once a pace was established, the Jays loosened their grip on the Spartans which allowed Emporia to move the ball down and score twice in the first stanza.
“I think just some different lineups trying to give some people some more time some subs coming in and that once again that'll happen,” McFarland said of the team dynamics on the pitch. “And we picked up the pressure in the second half for the first about 20 minutes and we kind of laid off for a little bit and then ... it just happens.”
Down 2-0 at the break, the Jays knew the task ahead of them.
“The Emporia team lost a lot of seniors from last year,” McFarland said. “But, they have a few guys who made some plays. And that was in our game plan tonight and that's what kind of stinks because some of their better players made the plays tonight. We talked about stopping them and keeping them in control.
“But, you know, we had plenty of chances tonight,” he added. “When we looked at the shots, they're very similar. They put theirs away tonight — we didn't. And that's been something that's been consistently messing with us all year, but, we still fought back. We were down two at half got one up, was 2-1, and then they put two more goals away. And it's okayOK, we fought hard tonight.”
Four minutes into the second half, Ray Santiago-Flores scored for the Jays, the lone trip to the back of the net for Junction City.
Emporia added two more, one near the 10- minute mark and the final with 3 1/2 to play in the game.
After the game, which was advanced to 4:30 p.m. due to the weather, the seven seniors — and their parents — were honored with a final walk across the stadium.
“I just appreciate all the senior parents and all the senior players and everyone who's been coming out for the past four years, I'm thankful for all of them,” McFarland said. “The way that we went out though it wasn't where we folded, it wasn't where we gave up, we fought for the whole 80 minutes and that's one of the most important things. When you leave this field, and you're at the end of the season, especially for seniors — what is your last game like? And this is our last game here on Al Simpler. And I think a lot of people can walk away saying that they gave it their all.”
The Jays will travel to Washburn Rural on Monday for the first round of the soccer regional tournament.
McFarland said he felt confident in the team’s ability.
“So, we played a good game against them earlier in the season, only lost 5-0,” McFarland said. “Here's the thing, when I say that though is in previous years — like every year we keep getting a little bit better, a little bit better each year. So, I want to shorten that number of goals, hopefully get a few more opportunities on our side, try to put one in the back of the net and it just has to be a big defensive game from us.”