By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Central High School boys soccer coach Ted Poor can't bear the thought of losing Taishi Ukai.
A senior foreign exchange student from Japan -- although only a sophomore, in actuality -- Ukai showed just how valuable an addition he's been to the Falcons' roster with a pair of goals that helped Central fend off host Warren County for a 3-2 victory on Tuesday night.
"He's a great player," Poor said. "I'm hoping he's going to stay -- I know he won't, I just hope he would. It'd be nice to have him back next year."
The Falcons needed Ukai's scoring touch against the Wildcats, who showed remarkable resiliency after falling behind by two goals. Chronically short-handed with injuries -- Warren County began the game missing four injured starters -- the Wildcats' depth got tested even more in the second half.
Things started well after the break for Warren County (3-4 overall and Bull Run District), as junior Jonathan Buggisch chased down a deflected cross in the penalty box and did something his team had tried with no success for 42 minutes -- beat Falcons goalkeeper Jose Martinez on a shot. Buggisch's goal off a slicing shot back through the box that found the upper left corner of the net, pulled his team back within a goal at 2-1 with 37:35 to play.
Three minutes later, Buggisch drew a yellow-red card ejection and the Wildcats had to play the rest of the game down a player.
Instead of folding, the Wildcats attacked with vigor and broke through for the tying goal with 30:46 to play. Senior Austen Butler, described by Wildcats assistant coach Jeff Moxie as "our little spark," came off the bench and made an instant impact when he beat two defenders to a long ball from teammate Blake Steele and then knocked a shot into the net past an onrushing Martinez.
"He's quick, strong, athletic and Blake played him a good ball over the top," Moxie said of Butler. "He ran it down, had a nice finish with his left foot which is not his strong foot. I thought it was a great finish."
Poor was surprised by his team's defensive lapse.
"We made a defensive mistake, and it happens," Poor said. "They were playing the long ball most of the night, and the boys should have been ready for it."
Ukai came through again for the Falcons with 21:14 to play, notching his second goal when Tyler Bosserman's cross found him at the top of the penalty box. Ukai unloaded a rising shot past Wildcats keeper Tristan Ward to give his team the lead for good.
"We were patient working the ball outside and inside, and were able to get that goal," Poor said.
Warren County kept up the pressure, and had a great chance off a corner kick with just less than 10 minutes to play. The Wildcats got three shots on goal in the sequence, the most dangerous the last by Johnny Herge that Martinez somehow managed to reach for a diving deflection.
The Wildcats outshot the Falcons, 12-7, in the second half.
"I was happy with the way they fought back and didn't give up," Moxie said. "You find yourself down two goals, then down 2-1 and down a man, some teams will just quit it and back it in, but they fought all the way to the end."
Martinez was tested early and often, making a spectacular save in the opening minute on Buggisch's dangerous rising shot. He finished with eight saves.
"He's been hurt a little bit," Poor said. "We had a bad game against William Monroe because his knee got banged into and he was too slow off the ball and gave up some quick goals."
Ukai opened the scoring in the 12th minute with a goal off David Snarr's assist. Central's Franklin Hernandez gave his team some insurance just before stoppage time when he tracked down a long ball from Ukai and beat an onrushing Ward for the Falcon's second goal.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>