TJ takes out defending champs


The Mirror

It was just the spark the Thomas Jefferson soccer team needed. And it was provided by an unlikely source Friday night in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at Sumner’s Sunset Chev Stadium.

Senior Steve Reusser took advantage of a lapse by the Bellarmine Prep defense just 11 minutes into the match and connected on the biggest goal of his soccer career. Reusser’s score propelled the Raiders past defending state-champion Bellarmine, 2-0, and into the soccer-rich school’s first state Final Four since 1999.

Jefferson (14-2-4) will take on the Roosevelt Roughriders (13-4-2) at 6 tonight at Sunset Chev Stadium in the first state semifinal. Roosevelt upset top-ranked Snohomish Friday night, 2-1, in a shootout. Inglemoor and Pasco will play at 8 p.m. in the second semi. The two winners will play Saturday at 8 p.m. in the state championship game and the losers will play a third-fourth game at 2 p.m. Saturday in Sumner.

Roosevelt is making its first appearance in the state semifinals and had to win its final KingCo League game to even qualify for the postseason. The Roughriders’ were also on the brink of elimination against Snohomish before scoring a goal with 10 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 1-1, eventually winning the shootout. Roosevelt downed Decatur, 2-1, in double overtime in the first round of the state playoffs.

But the Raiders, who finished third in the South Puget Sound League South Division, are not going to allow themselves to look past the Roughriders into the state-championship game. They are also a team that most didn’t expect to be still playing.

“It doesn’t matter who we play,” said TJ head coach Darren Sawatzky. “We just have to play our game.”

“We are making a run, finally,” said senior midfielder Lamar Neagle. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It’s a huge opportunity for us.”

Reusser made the most of his opportunity Friday night. His goal came after a pass back to the Bellarmine goalkeeper by a Lion defender. But Reusser ran down the pass before Jason Stam could pick up the ball, sliding underneath the Bellarmine keeper and tapping the ball into the back of the net for his sixth goal of the season to give the Raiders the 1-0 lead.

“That’s definitely the biggest goal I’ve had so far,” Reusser said. “It definitely got us in the right spirit.”

The goal was also the perfect way for the Raiders to start the game against the defending state-champion Lions.

“That’s a good soccer team we just beat,” Sawatzky said. “We knew that we had to go after them in the beginning. We needed to press them a little and Reusser was a little spark plug and that goal really changed the game.”

It also came just four minutes after TJ’s second-leading scorer this season, forward Rafael Velazquez, limped off the field after a collision with Stam. Velazquez was taken to the doctor during the game for precautionary purposes. He should be ready to play in the Raiders’ semifinal game Friday night.

TJ’s leading scorer, Lamar Neagle, put the game out of reach with just under 10 minutes left in the second half when he bent in a free kick from 28 yards out. The goal was Neagle’s 26th of the season.

“I saw that the keeper was thinking I was going to go near post,” Neagle said. “I just tried to hit it hard and low and it worked out for me.”

The Neagle goal also toned down the relentless second-half offensive push by Bellarmine. The Lions had numerous scoring opportunities against TJ junior goalkeeper Tyler Jeffcoat, including three consecutive corner kicks by Daniel Gray eight minutes into the second half. But nothing got by the Raider defense and Jeffcoat.

“Before the game, I was a little nervous,” Jeffcoat said. “But after a couple of minutes, I got relaxed. We have got a good team. With 10 seniors, we really knew we were going to have a strong team.”

The victory over Bellarmine Friday might have been a surprise to people outside of the TJ soccer program, especially after the Raiders finished in third place in the South Puget Sound League South Division.

“I definitely thought that this could happen,” Reusser said. “The team is hitting its peak now.”

The Raiders might be the hottest team remaining in the Class 4A tournament. Jefferson has won eight consecutive matches in May, outscoring their opponents 33-3 and are making their first appearance in the state semifinal since 1999, when TJ finished in third place.

The Raiders have won a state record six state boys soccer championships — with the last coming in 1994. The win over Bellarmine might also be a good omen for TJ. Three of Jefferson’s titles included wins over the Lions. The Raiders beat them in the semifinals in 1984 and ‘88 and in the title game in ‘85.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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