It took a few minutes for the Hays High School boys’ soccer team to get things figured out Saturday afternoon.
Once they did, there was no stopping the Indians in a 5-3 victory against Garden City in Western Athletic Conference action at the HHS field.
“We kind of figured out what they were doing defensively against us, and they were sitting back on us in the first half,” said HHS coach Silas Hibbs. “We kind of got our marks switched around offensively and executed on our strategy going forward.”
After battling to a scoreless draw until the water break nearly halfway through the first half, the Indians’ offense came to life.
And it was sparked by its standout seniors — Zachary Wagner and Ethan Nunnery.
Wagner tallied the game’s first goal in the 29th minute, bending a long shot into the upper right corner of the goal over the outstretched hands of Garden City keeper Jose Betanco.
“We were on their half most of the half,” Wagner said. “The wind was on our side and I thought, ‘What the heck? Let’s try it.’ I got lucky and it went it. I was so happy with it. Then we pounded in three or four right away, and I was happy with that. It’s not just me scoring the goal, it’s the whole team because everyone works so hard to get it.”
Just like that, the Indians (7-3, 2-3) had the spark they needed.
It ignited a fire the Buffaloes couldn’t control.
“We are an emotionally charged team,” Hibbs said. “That got us going, and then we got a couple more right after that. I was excited they put the pedal to the metal the entire first half and finished their opportunities, which was great.”
Nunnery made it 2-0 in the 30th minute on another long shot that Betanco saw hit his hands above his head and travel right through to the back of the net.
A minute later, Nunnery struck again, this time in the box for a 3-0 advantage.
“There’s not one person that is more important than the next guy,” Hibbs said. “A good team really realizes that. Yeah, we have our studs. But when it comes to playing your role, it’s very, very important you don’t try to do more than your role and do the best you can.”
Garden City pulled within 3-1 in the 34th minute, but Hays High junior Jacob Maska scored in the 34th minute, making it 4-1 at halftime.
It was a stark contrast from the first time the two teams played this year in the Indians’ season opener. Hays High trailed 3-0 at the break in that game in Garden City before eventually losing 5-1.
“We’ve really built as a team,” Wagner said. “Garden was our first game away, and it’s always a tough game to go down there. Now we’ve had our chance, and we need to keep this going. Once our team gets on a roll, we play really great together.”
When the Buffaloes tried to rally in the second half, pulling within 4-2 in the 62nd minute, senior Erik Kreutzer gave the Indians momentum back with a long strike that went over the keeper’s hands and into the back of the net.
That made it 5-2 in the 64th minute.
“Then Erik got our insurance goal in the second half,” Wagner said. “We didn’t have much offense in the second half, but when you’re going into a 30 mph wind, you don’t have much options. He took one and got a good shot and it went it. We played a lot of defense and got it out. I’m very pleased with the win and ready for next week.”
Garden City got a goal three minutes later, but it was as close as the visitors would come on the windy, hot day in Hays.
“I definitely like the progress they’ve made over the course of the season,” said Hibbs, whose team won its third straight. “We kinda worked out a few kinks that led to losses early on. But if we can continue this momentum, which I know we can, I’m excited to see how far we go.”
Hays High will host Junction City for a 4 p.m. match Tuesday.