Sports

TJ soccer back on top

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The Thomas Jefferson boys soccer program is unmatched when it comes to tradition. The Raiders entered Saturday night’s Class 4A title match against Pasco with a state-record six big-school state championships.

But the legend of TJ soccer grew a little bit larger Saturday night when the Raiders posted their seventh and maybe most surprising state title with a hard-fought 2-1 win over the Pasco Bulldogs on the FieldTurf at Sumner’s Sunset Chev Stadium.

“This is such a great moment,” said senior defender Brandon Sprague. “I played for 14 years, all for a moment like this.

The state championship was the Raiders’ first since 1994 and came after the Raiders finished third in the South Puget Sound League South Division behind Federal Way rivals Decatur and Beamer. Jefferson was forced to fight through numerous injuries, including a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament by second-leading scorer Rafael Velazquez in a quarterfinal win over Bellarmine, and didn’t put their most talented lineup on the field all year.

“We knew we had the people to do it,” Sprague said. “We just needed 23 guys to decide to win it and we did that. That just makes it that much sweeter that people doubted us and we came through.”

“These boys have more character than anyone gave them credit for,” said head coach Darren Sawatzky said. “They finally got it taken care of.”

“Words can’t even explain this feeling,” said TJ senior Michael Markey. “We knew that we had the talent. But we had some letdowns and injuries. That might have given us more desire. It might have been good for us to take third in league.”

The difference Saturday night against Pasco came early in the second half when the Raiders’ leading scorer, senior Lamar Neagle, blasted a penalty kick past Bulldog goalkeeper Jason Schadler to break a 1-1 tie.

The deciding foul was called after TJ senior midfielder Calvin Walsh was pinned between Schadler and a defender and thrown down inside the box, resulting in the Neagle penalty kick.

“I try to do the same thing (on penalty kicks),” Neagle said. “I wait for the goalkeeper to move and then go the other way.”

The goal was the Raiders’ second in just over six minutes of play and erased a 1-0 Pasco lead. With just three minutes left in the first half, Sprague lofted a free kick from midfield in front of the goal. Schadler attempted to punch the ball out of the box, but it bounced onto the right foot of freshman forward Tyler Hanson, who pushed the ball into the right side of the net.

The goal was Hanson’s second big play in as many days.

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