On a night set aside to honor the Hillsboro High School boys soccer team and its incredible (and sizeable) group of seniors and their families, there ended up to be more celebrated than just a squad of 11 young men who have played a large part in some of the most successful years of soccer in school history.
What started as recognition turned into jubilation as a 1-0 victory in the final 1:30 of the tilt crowned the orange and black the South Central Conference champions with a perfect 9-0 record.
The title is their fourth overall and second perfect showing in the last three years. The Toppers were also a perfect 9-0 in 2015 as well. When all was said and done, it took all of 78:30 to decide, as an incredibly hard fought back and forth battle ended with senior stalwart Joe Mattson banging home the game winner and sending the Topper faithful home happy on Oct. 8.
In a ceremony prior to kick-off the Toppers honored all 11 of their seniors: Charles Babcock, Josh Bauman, Hunter Beecher, Ethan Blankenship, Jack Combs, Dalton Greenwood, Jake Holcomb, Joe Mattson, Ian Roach, Wes Stockstill, and Tyler Watson.
All 11 seniors were able to make the start, including Greenwood, whose season was actually cut short by a knee injury two weeks ago in a tilt against the Carlinville Cavaliers. Greenwood was able to suit up one more time and after the kickoff was played out of bounds, he was helped off the field by his teammates to a resounding round of applause.
Once the action got started, the Bulldogs would come right at the Toppers and showed that they were very much a different squad than the group who started the season 0-6. They would in fact out hustle and out muscle Hillsboro for several minutes as they too still held conference implications. A win and their hopes were still alive for at least a share of the top spot with one game in hand over the Toppers and they came out with something to prove.
It would take some time for Hillsboro to find their rhythm and when they finally did, it would be sophomore forward Ethan Lentz who would find fellow sophomore Gavin Matoush up the field on the through ball. Using his speed to create space, Matoush found himself on a breakaway but would get under his shot and put the ball over the net and out of play.
It would be almost nearly an identical play on the next Topper attack, this time with a throw in from Roach being played up to Matoush, who was once again off to the races, but this time the Staunton keeper was able to smother the shot and end the drive.
At just past halfway Hillsboro would have their next best chance as, with 17 minutes left in the first, Bauman would control the ball just inside the Bulldog 18 yard box and hammer a shot on frame. His shot would sail over however, and the Toppers would add two more wide and another off the outside of the net from Hunter Beecher in the last five minutes of the half as the score would stand at 0-0 heading into the break.
When play resumed in the second, it was more of the same as staunch defense from both sides would dominate play. In fact, neither side would get more than just a couple of really solid looks in the first 20 minutes of the period, until, with just under 18 minutes left in the tilt, the Bulldogs would nearly find the back of the net on a corner kick.
The ball was so close to going in that the Staunton sideline had already begun to celebrate, but Bauman was there for the save with a knee redirection ending the drive.
After the close call at the Bulldog end, the Toppers would nearly be able to celebrate some good fortune of their own as they’d continued to hammer, but each time Staunton goalkeeper Daniel Pratte was there for the save.
Finally, with 2:20 left and overtime looming, Hillsboro would find themselves with a corner kick deep in Bulldog territory. Lentz would put a perfect cross ball in front to a waiting Mattson who would get a terrific redirect on the net, but Pratte would make a punch save and send it over the crossbar and out of play setting up another Topper corner.
On the ensuing kick Mattson, in a play reminiscent of last year’s regional opener between the two teams at Altamont, would make good on the shot to put Hillsboro up 1-0 with 1:30 left. From there the Toppers would tighten up and send the Bulldogs packing, bringing home the victory and the SCC title.
“This group is an incredible group of seniors and all they are is clutch,” Topper coach Jason Burke said. “These guys give us a chance each and every night and its been such a thrill to have spent the past four years with these young men. This group is a family and have been playing together literally all their lives. For them to have this success this year and especially tonight is just perfect.”
Hillsboro would chase the Staunton win with one more as Mattson and Frankie Passariello scored in a 2-0 victory over East Alton-Wood River on Wednesday, Oct. 9. The Toppers will face the Oilers again on Oct. 15, in their opening game at the Alton Marquette Regional at 6 p.m.
October 7 at Breese
Hillsboro 0 0 - 0
Mater Dei 0 2 - 2
Scoring: Mater Dei - Carter Ritzheimer 1, Rafael Gamballi 1.
Records: Mater Dei (14-5).
October 8 at Hillsboro
Staunton 0 0 - 0
Hillsboro 0 1 - 1
Scoring: Hillsboro - Joe Mattson 1.
Records: Staunton (10-10, 5-2).
October 9 at Hillsboro
Hillsboro 2, East Alton-Wood River 0
Scoring: Hillsboro - Joe Mattson 1, Frankie Passariello 1.
Records: Hillsboro (15-3-2) EAWR (13-8-1).