Since an August 26 match-up to open the season against the North Mac Panthers, a game the Toppers led 2-1 before costly mistakes ended up costing them a win and relegating them to a 4-2 loss, the Hillsboro High School boys soccer team as been on an absolute tear as of late, going unbeaten in nine straight and outscoring their opponents a collective 26-4 over that stretch.
Throw in the fact that they’ve stayed perfect, not only on their home pitch, but also in South Central play, and it would maybe be safe to say that the orange and black have things at least partway figured out. According to Topper coach Jason Burke, however, things couldn’t be more untrue.
“Passes to nobody,” Burke said. “That’s all I think about. We win a game and I’m stuck on the passes we didn’t connect on. Any coach focuses on the things we need to work on as a group," Burke said. Sometimes we forget to appreciate the moment as coaches because we see what we need fixed and not what we do right. We praise the correct yes but inwardly we, as coaches at least, keep wanting that little bit more. We have to remind ourselves to appreciate the good. We know what our players are capable of and we want that to show through. Ask anyone who does this and they’ll say the same thing.”
What Hillsboro can appreciate is a solid group of seniors who, nearly top to bottom, have been starters since their sophomore years, some even since their freshman year. Its a load of experience that has helped the Toppers enjoy their early success and its also a nice compliment of juniors, sophomores, and key freshmen who round out a balanced Hillsboro attack.
“This is easily the deepest we’ve been in years,” said Burke. “We’ve got talent to sub for talent. Its a nice problem to have for sure.”
The Toppers took that problem on the road to Litchfield on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 17, for a South Central Conference showdown against the Gillespie-Litchfield co-op Miners who, in honor of the Litchfield players, moved their game from Little Dog Field in Gillespie to Lloyd Hill Field at LHS.
After all was said and done though, the visitors would stretch their unbeaten streak to ten and their conference record to 3-0 thanks to three unanswered second half goals and some furious play on the part of the Hillsboro defense.
When play started in the first, things very nearly went sideways in a hurry for the Toppers as some slow play on the part of the Hillsboro backline allowed Miner sophomore Jerri Yakana an open look at the net.
Fortunately for the Toppers, Yakana was just a bit too zealous on the attack and was whistled offsides, but the near disaster was both a wake up call for Hillsboro and a foreshadowing of things to come for the Miners.
When things settled down, the Toppers were able to hop on the offensive, moving the ball well at midfield and sending looping passes to the wings to create good looks on net.
The first good look for the Toppers came at the 2:47 mark of the first as senior midfielder Joe Mattson took a nice lead pass and worked his way inside the Miner half of the field. Using two nice moves to create some space, Mattson was able to put a hard shot on frame, but Miner keeper Cameron Crow was there to make the save. Senior mid Ian Roach would test Crow on the next Hillsboro possession, but once again the Gillespie netminder was there to keep the Toppers off the board.
Hillsboro would continue to pepper Crow for the better part of the opening minutes of the half and each time the sophomore showed he was up to the challenge until, at the seven minute mark of the first, when the Toppers were able to find a weak spot in the armor.
Off of a sprawling save in the Hillsboro end, junior keeper Shaw Riggs found midfielder Josh Bauman waiting and played a terrific clear ball that was corralled by the senior. Bauman would then chip a perfect ball up to sophomore forward Ethan Lentz, who would beat Crow up and over for the goal giving the Toppers the 1-0 lead. Crow actually would get a fingertip on the shot, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep the ball out of the net.
Hillsboro would nearly add to their lead on multiple occasions after the initial Lentz tally, but misses wide followed by misses over and goal posts hit would keep the lead at 1-0.
With 11:36 left in the first half, the Miners who had been knocking on the door every so often finally broke through as Yakana, using his speed, worked to get free up the left side and make two Hillsboro players swing and miss on their defensive attempts. From there, senior Trey Davee would do the rest and beat Riggs to the low right side to knot the score at one apiece and the score would stay that way until the break.
When play resumed in the second, the Toppers would come out gunning for the Miners and wasted little time in finding the back of their net as Mattson, taking a great feed from Lentz, pounded one home just 3:04 into the frame.
The lead wouldn’t be safe however as a back and forth battle ensued forcing both Riggs and Crow to play lights out on both ends of the field in hopes of keeping hounds at bay.
With 18:31 left, Hillsboro would get a little breathing room when senior midfielder Wes Stockstill corralled a goal kick from deep in the Topper zone and carried the ball up the left side. Using two beautiful drop step moves, Stockstill was able to deke his defender and carry the ball all the way into the Gillespie zone before touching off a perfect feed to Lentz all alone in front.
Lentz would do the rest, beating Crow on the doorstep to put the visitors up 3-1 and Mattson would add an insurance goal late for his second of the game and team leading ninth of the season.
With the victory, the Toppers improved to a perfect 3-0 in conference play and extended their unbeaten streak to an even ten games. In addition, the win improved Hillsboro’s overall mark to 8-1-2.
The Toppers travel to Vandalia this afternoon for another conference match-up, this time with the host Vandals. The action kicks off at 4:30 p.m. with no JV to follow.
September 17 at Litchfield
Hillsboro 1 3 - 4
Gillespie 1 0 - 1
Scoring: Hillsboro - Ethan Lentz (Josh Bauman), Joe Mattson (Ethan Lentz), Ethan Lentz (Wes Stockstill), Joe Mattson (unassisted); Gillespie - Trey Davee (Jerri Yakana).
Records: Hillsboro (8-1-2); Gillespie (5-5-2).