4A West's top seed, Augusta Orioles advance to regional final over Circle Thunderbirds

Lionel Tipton
Kearney celebrates a goal earlier this year.

AUGUSTA – As he watched his top-seeded Orioles dominate Circle in a Class 4-1A regional quarterfinal, Augusta boys soccer coach Dusty Buell was reminded that his team had once been where Circle is now.

“I feel that Circle is kind of where we were seven years ago,” said Buell after Augusta’s 10-0 victory Tuesday night, which was called after the Orioles final goal in the 71st minute. 

But where the Orioles have ascended to is worth noting. Augusta (15-2) finds itself as the top seed in the West bracket, with home matches guaranteed into the state quarterfinal round. Their next match will be Thursday against Winfield, which Tuesday ousted McPherson, 3-2, on penalty kicks.

Augusta solidified its standing with the easy triumph over the Thunderbirds (2-16), adding confidence to a state title bid.

“Because of our season, the regional championship runs through Augusta, and we’re going to be here to protect our home turf,” Buell said. “I think that’s going to mean a lot. We’re going to have our student section here; they’re going to be loud. We have depended on them all season, and they kind of give us that energy burst.”

“When you have that bus ride (to an away game) and then you have lack of fans, you can’t feel their energy. It is a plus to be here in front of our crowd, in front of our fans, in front of our student section. It’s going to give us just that little extra that we need. Our boys are going to be up for this game.”

But that kind of respect is not easily earned, Buell said. For Circle to get there, certain things have to fall into place.

“It’s going to take somebody that’s going to step in and be committed to the program, be committed to the process and (be committed) to these boys,” he said. “They have that guy right now (coach Junior Galvan). And if he stays around, there’s going to be big things for Circle in the future.”

Big things are happening right now for Augusta, which is almost fully healthy despite freshman Hunter Murphy suffering a broken leg this week.

“We’re pretty much healthy now,” Buell said. “(Murphy is) out with a broken leg, but for the most part, our team’s healthy. We’re here. We’re as healthy as we possibly can be at this point in the season.

“I like our chances against anybody. As long as we come out and play our game, and play at the level that we play, we’ll compete and be in any game.”

Despite the lopsided outcome, Buell said both teams benefited from playing Tuesday.

“It’s one more game, and (Tuesday night) it’s 70 more minutes that the seniors get to be soccer players,” he said. “Sometimes, that makes a huge difference.

“When the season is taken away from us through a pandemic like it was this spring two years ago, and not knowing what’s going to happen this year, or last year not knowing if we could lose the season again. Sometimes, playing one more game is just enough to kind of fulfill something that you had started, and if I were them (Circle), I would much rather be here to play this game than to not have that opportunity at all.”

Of course, having the talent goes a long way toward enjoyment of a team, and Augusta got a big lift from seniors Kaden Kearney (three goals), Connor Inlow (three assists) and Payton Ball (two goals, one assist), as well as sophomore Cody Meckel (two goals).

“Connor Inlow has done it all season long,” Buell said. “And Kaden Kearney, you can’t say enough about him. He came in last year (having) not played one varsity minute and he has proven himself and brought his talents to where he’s going to go play soccer somewhere at the next level next year. 

”Connor Inlow is kind of that general on the field. Connor just controls the middle. His stat lines, they aren’t going to be as gaudy as the rest, but he’s an incredible player.

“If you want to look past both of them, then you’ve got Payton Ball coming down your throat in the box. 

“Kearney had three (goals Tuesday night), and that’s going to put him at 30 goals on the season, and that’s incredible. Payton Ball with 40 last year and Kearney with 30 this year. Payton will probably end with about 27, 28 (this year) going into our next game.”

One bright spot for Circle was the play of junior goalkeeper Grant Ledbetter, who managed 18 saves despite being under a constant barrage from Augusta all night long.

Augusta 10, Circle 0

Circle 0;0—0

Augusta 6;4—10                                                                                                                                      

Scoring

First half: 1. Augusta, Ball (unassisted), 7:26; 2. Augusta, Ball (Inlow), 12:11; 3. Augusta, Rios (unassisted), 14:08; 4. Augusta, Ruddle (Inlow), 19:45. 5. Augusta, Pankratz (unassisted), 26:48; 6. Augusta, Kearney (unassisted), 36:46.

Second half: 7. Augusta, Kearney (Inlow), 47:36; 8. Augusta, Meckel (unassisted), 49:11; 9. Augusta, Kearney (Pankratz), 56:06; 10. Augusta, Meckel (Ball), 71:27.

Saves

Circle: Ledbetter, 28 shots on goal, 18 saves; Augusta, Carselowey, 0 shots on goal, 0 saves.