De Soto picks up two wins
It was an odd string of events that led De Soto soccer coach Darren Erpelding to criticize his team midway through Tuesday's 3-0 win over Atchison.
The Cats scored all of their goals in the first half, basically dominating the Redmen with speed.
"It could have been 8-0 if we'd kept playing that way," Erpelding said with disgust. "We played a lot better in the second half, though."
The second half -- the 40 minutes that saw not a single Wildcat ball cross into the goal -- was the best half?
Maybe not when the only goal is beating Atchison, but Erpelding said there's no hiding that his team has been playing with only one eye on the field recently. The other is planted firmly on the looming match up with Kansas City Christian, the defending Class 4A state champions.
De Soto cruised to a pair of wins over the last week. The Cats held off Eudora in the closest game the two programs have ever played, 3-0, then beat Atchison to wrap up the season-opening four-game home stand.
The difference in play between Tuesday's two periods was plainly apparent, both on the scoreboard and to Erpelding. While the Cats went scoreless, he said they worked for better shots, played a more fundamentally sound game and stopped cherry-picking goals of the Redmen.
Erpelding said the team from the first half could have routed Atchison, but the team in the second half, that's the team that might have a chance against Christian.
"I was very unhappy, even up 3-0," Erpelding said. "We weren't playing the way we were used to playing. We were playing long balls and we weren't moving the ball around. We were being flat up top, but we got back to what we need to do to make us better and more productive."
Erpelding said Zach England continued to play well and has begun to spread the ball around more rather than try and take it to the hole with every drive. The fruits of his labors began to show Thursday in De Soto's win over Eudora.
England scored the first goal of the game with a dazzling cut through the middle of the defense, but dished off an assist to Scott McKechnie when mobbed by defenders late in the first half. TJ Blankenship scored off an England rebound in the second half.
England scored two of De Soto's goals against Atchison. Both were long balls he managed to win the race for, and while neither fit exactly in Erpelding's view of a stable, efficient pass-heavy offense, he said England's game has improved.
"I was happy with his game more in the second half than the first half," Erpelding said. "He was laying balls off and looking to be involved more. He was taking his shots when they were available, but when they weren't he was laying it off."
De Soto has now overcome its season-opening loss to Perry-Lecompton to win three straight games, and it may be able to add one more into the win column Thursday as De Soto's travels to Paola. Christian then awaits Tuesday.
There's plenty of problems with acknowledging Christian already warrants so much attention, Erpelding said.
First is the fact that Thursday, De Soto hits the highway for its first road game, a 4 p.m. game at Paola.
Second is the fact that when in a similar position last year -- playing good soccer and eagerly awaiting a showdown with Christian -- the very same Paola Panthers jumped up and bit the Cats.
Paola handed De Soto its first loss in 2005, breaking a four-game winning streak. The Wildcats had a lot of trouble getting things back in order, too. They went on to lose 5-0 to Christian and soon found themselves in the middle of an ugly losing streak.
The Cats lost six games in a row before finally righting themselves in a second game against Paola.
"We went down there last year 4-0 and they put it on us. We played terrible," Erpelding said. "We're going there and we look to win. I think we're more focused now than we were last year."
Erpelding said he's seen better play from a number of players in the last few games. Freshman Sammy Siebolt broke his leg during the Eudora game and will miss the rest of the season, but Erpelding said another freshman -- Duncan Henderson -- has played very well from the left midfielder's position.
He also said consistent play by McKechnie has helped the team.
Still, improved or not, there's no denying the Cats all have one thing lingering in the back of their mind.
How much did visions of Christian factor into Tuesday's dissatisfying first half?
"A lot. You could tell," Erpelding said. "It's partly my mistake because they're in the back of my head, too. You keep telling the kids not to overlook anyone, but they know it's next week. They know they're defending state champs and they want a shot at them.
"We can beat them. I have a plan to take some of the things they do away. I have an idea."