Amid the 90-degree heat and strong southerly wind, the Hays High School boys’ soccer team walked off the field exhausted.
Those conditions, coupled with a strong Dodge City squad, made for a trying day Thursday at the HHS Field.
But Hays High coach Silas Hibbs was pleased with his team’s effort despite a 4-1 loss against the defending Class 6A state champs.
“That’s one thing that we worked on this week,” Hibbs said. “I don’t care if we get beat 10-0 or 15-0, but if you walk off the field and know you left everything out on the field, that’s all you can ask for as a coach. I was pleased with their effort. Obviously we would have liked the win, but I know the guys played hard.”
The effort by the Indians was a stark contrast to where they were a season ago, when the Red Demons manhandled Hays High in both outings.
On Thursday, it seemed it might be the same as last year — when Dodge City went 21-0 in winning its state crown.
In the second minute, Hays High had a chance in the box, but failed to get a shot off.
In the sixth minute, Dodge City made the Indians pay. Senior Joshua DonJuan found the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“They put good pressure on us,” said Dodge City coach Saul Hernandez. “I think our forte is the turf field. It’s more of a true roll. We’re not used to it, don’t practice on it. But both teams played on the same field. It took a little getting used to. I think it took us a little bit to get used to it.”
The Red Demons tacked on two more goals in the first half. Junior Josue Castillo outran the HHS defense on a long ball and scored in the 25th minute, and the Indians had trouble clearing the ball in the 31st minute, leading to a goal by senior Mario Martinez.
“We talked about it and you can work on it so much,” Hibbs said about the long pass that resulted in the second goal. “But until you kind of see their speed up front in person, you don’t realize how quick they are. A couple of our players got caught on the outside, and they punished us for it. A good team will always do it.”
That left Hays High trailing 3-0 at halftime.
But Hernandez knew his undefeated team would be tested in the final 40 minutes.
“We knew they weren’t going to back down,” he said. “We knew them having the wind the second half was something for them to look forward to. We knew they weren’t going to give up.”
Martinez tallied his second goal in the 45th minute, making it 4-0.
But Hays High didn’t back down. Instead, the Indians used the wind to their advantage and began to finally put pressure on the Dodge City goalie.
When junior Jacob Maska scored just inside the box in the 59th minute, it pulled Hays High within 4-1. The goal marked only the second team to score on Dodge City this season.
“I’m happy they didn’t roll over,” Hibbs said. “You saw them walking off the field exhausted. I’m happy they gave it their all. I’m happy that they saw some success late in the second half. It wasn’t like Dodge City was playing their bench either. They were playing their starters. So to see us get a little punch in there and they saw if they pushed a little harder, then maybe earlier we could have put a couple in. Long story short: I’m happy with their effort, but not happy with the result. But we get to play them again in Dodge.”
Hays High had a chance to pull even closer in the 72nd and 75th minutes, only to see senior Zach Wagner’s shots be snuffed by the Dodge City goalie.
“We almost had a couple more after that. Their goalie made a couple great saves,” Hibbs said about Wagner's attempts. “Things are turned around and the ball bounces a different way, maybe it’s a 3-2 game. But at the end of the day, Dodge City is a good team and we respect them for that. I’m just glad with the guys’ effort today.”
The three goal difference tied the smallest margin of victory for the Red Demons this year. Dodge City hasn’t lost since the 2015 season.
Hays High (4-3 overall, 0-3 WAC) will host Great Bend in a conference battle at 4 p.m. Tuesday.