SPRINGFIELD – There is a page in the Branson High School boys’ soccer record books, and posted in coach David Brenner’s classroom, that serves several purposes for those close to the program.
It helps Brenner plan practices and offseason conditioning work, and is a motivator for players on the high school level and younger players coming up through the ranks.
A portion of it has a listing of Branson’s all-time record against other teams in the area, and there are some entries that have a blue box in it.
The blue box signifies a zero – in that Branson has no victories all-time against that team.
There was always a blue box in the entry for the series between Branson and Springfield Kickapoo.
Until Monday night, that is.
Branson claimed its first victory over Kickapoo in program history, going on the road and coming from behind twice before claiming a 3-2 victory.
“It means so much,” Brenner said. “The blue boxes are there for me, because they make me sad to look at.
“I get to take a blue box off the board.”
For Carlton Epps, who scored one of Branson’s goals – the tally that knotted the score at 2-all – it was a surprise to learn that Branson had never topped the Chiefs.
But it only added to how sweet the victory was for the sophomore forward.
“Coming into the game, I didn’t know that, until everybody started talking about it,” Epps said. “It felt good to be part of the starting lineup and be part of a team that could come out and beat a great team like Kickapoo.
“We worked hard the second half, started off shaky in the first half, but came back and I’m proud of my team.”
The Pirates sit at 14-4 overall with four matches remaining in the regular season. With district play to follow, the team has a chance to set the school record for victories in a season, bettering the 16-8-1 mark the 2012 team posted.
The heroes were plentiful on Monday night, starting with sophomore goalkeeper Pilot Ascone, who was under consistent pressure for most of the game but consistently made the right decisions to help keep his team in it.
After Kickapoo’s Landon Keisker opened the scoring about 20 minutes into the game, Branson answered 10 minutes later.
Oskar Lauriac scored from about 15 yards out, beating the Kickapoo keeper from an extreme angle after a scramble in front of the goal off a free kick.
The Chiefs took a 2-1 lead midway through the second half, on another goal from Keisker.
It took six minutes for Branson to tie the score again, when Epps converted a penalty kick after a Branson player was taken down inside the box.
The Pirates kept the pressure on, with Jimmy Nguyen sending a shot just wide of the goal, then bouncing a shot off the crossbar with 5:30 to play.
In the aftermath of Nguyen’s shot off the crossbar, Pedro Caram sent a shot about a foot wide of the goal after a wild scramble in front.
With 3:15 to play, Kyle Sutton had a free kick, and after the initial save, the ball came out to Gaige Efird, who directed it into a wide-open net for the game-winner.
Kickapoo put the pressure on in the final three minutes, but Ascone and the Pirates weathered the storm.
“We persevered, we have some injuries, some little nicks,” Brenner said. “I had some guys really step up tonight that did an amazing job – Pilot in goal, that’s a big stage for a sophomore to come to Kickapoo and step in there. I’ve got Garrett with a bad back and Cris with a bad shoulder, I could go on and on for hours.”
Efird said the game-winning goal didn’t require much work on his part.
“Kyle had the free kick,” he said. “They were pushing everybody up to try to put me offsides. I saw the one defender, so I stayed with him.
“I saw the rebound come right to me and I just tapped it in. It was a perfect ball for me, I didn’t have to do much to finish it.”
Efird didn’t try to downplay the magnitude of the victory and what it means for the Branson program.
“It’s a huge step – first time beating Kickapoo, and coming here, and we had a great crowd,” he said. “This is a great step for our program, going into districts. We have to keep our heads up and just keep our focus on the next game.
“This gives us a ton of confidence, knowing that we can come in here and take a win. If we play at the level we did tonight, it’s going to be hard for any team to beat us.”
The Pirates followed up Monday’s victory with a 2-1 win over Republic on Senior Night.
Branson fell behind 1-0 early in the first half, then scored a pair of second-half goals, with Diego Paz connecting off a through ball from Sutton, then Abarca sending a corner kick that Efird converted for the game-winner.
After games at Springfield Parkview (Monday) at Webb City (Tuesday) and at Neosho (Oct. 29), the Pirates will close the regular season on Oct. 31 at home against Bolivar.
Then comes the Class 4 District 11 Tournament at Ozark, a field that also includes Nixa and Republic.
“This team is unique to Branson,” Brenner said. “It is a team that isn’t afraid of anybody, they aren’t afraid of comebacks, they respect every opponent, and have all the ingredients to make an amazing run.
“That’s what we’re looking forward to.”