A tension-fraught tie capped the Bainbridge High varsity boys final home match of the year Friday, April 27 — a scrappy and contentious 1-1 draw against the visitors from Ballard.
Two controversial calls made in rapid succession, just moments into the second half, benched two Spartans (sophomore Dustin Scott and senior Tyco Libes) and things hadn’t exactly been friendly on the field before that.
Scott was benched for allegedly flashing an obscene hand gesture at one official in the wake of a much-debated call that benched Libes.
“I spoke to my player and knowing him, I’ve coached him a couple years, I don’t see that happening,” said Spartan Head Coach Drew Keller. “I can’t say that didn’t happen because I didn’t see it or not see it, but I was shocked. He’s an experienced player; he’s going to know what that’s going to do.
“I can’t speak to what the calls were because he said he saw things that I didn’t see, and he’s closer to that than I am,” the coach added. “I didn’t see what he called cards for. It certainly had the feel that they were looking for things and that’s unfortunate.”
Ultimately, the refs were hounded by several especially vocal members of the crowd on their way out, and the Spartans were left looking for the silver lining.
“That’s a great result, like I just told the boys,” said Keller. “You’ve got to think of that as a win, when we go down two players and have that result.”
Be that as it may, there weren’t many smiles on the Spartan sidelines, and the coach was sympathetic.
“Once the run of the game feels that way, I understand their frustration,” Keller said. “But we don’t need to give them any reason to continue calling the way that they are. It’s hard to handle that frustration, but that needs to happen.”
Perhaps adding to the stakes, and thus the tension, Friday’s match was also Senior Night and the team’s upperclassmen — Jason Weiss, Jeston Rusnak, Mario Vukic, Ian Drury, Libes, Jacob Keasler, Kristian Magrini, Kevin McCann, Isiah Mass, John-Tye Aheame and Andy Becker — were recognized.
The seniors, the team leaders during his first season at the helm, Keller said, would always hold a special place in his memory.
“The soccer, obviously we can see it’s great, but that’s not what I’m going to remember the most,” he said. “They’re just great kids; a lot of really bright, funny kids. I really enjoyed my time with them and I’ll miss watching them on the field as much as I’ll miss just hanging out with them and practicing and being on the bus. It’s a great group. They’ll be missed.”
That being said, the season to come was already shaping up to be a promising one for the Spartans, Keller said.
“There’s a lot of good stuff moving forward,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming up who are hungry. We had some great younger players this year.”
Junior Max Johnson was singled out by Keller as an especially promising upcoming standout and potential future captain material.
“He was a great leader, very vocal, organizes the defense really well,” the coach said.
Against Ballard, it was stalwart Spartan superstar Mario Vukic who nabbed a nod from team officials.
Through the night the Spartans came agonizingly close to scoring that crucial second goal — several of those close calls coming straight off Vukic’s foot.
“Mario had a night tonight,” Keller said. “He was just in rare form. He’s always a strong player, but there were a lot of head shakers out there where you’re just like, ‘I don’t exactly know what happened, but he still has the ball somehow.’
“He went all out; it was fun to see that,” Keller added. “He deserved a goal.”
Overall, the entire team played well, the coach said, much better than the numbers on the board would indicate.
“The stuff on the field was great,” Keller said. “Playing down two is tough and you can see we created more chances than they did even down two players.
“Coming away 1-1, just given what transpired, I think that’s a successful game.”