Since adding the North Mac Panthers to its schedule three seasons ago, the Hillsboro High School boys soccer team has had nothing but trouble in one way or another with the Macoupin County squad.
Flashback to three years ago and the maiden game of both the season and rivalry where a Topper team enjoyed an early lead only to have an improbable kick turn into an even more improbable goal that cost them the victory.
Last year, an early Panther goal and a staunch North Mac defense that kept the orange and black honest for the final 70 minutes.
And then there’s Monday afternoon, Aug. 26, where the Toppers would fall behind early, claw back to tie the score before halftime, take the lead just after the half, then watch the wheels fall off as three unanswered goals would take a 2-1 lead and turn it into a 4-2 loss.
The Panthers controlled the tempo early in the tilt as the Toppers struggled to find a rhythm with their lineup which included senior Joe Mattson moving from defense to offense and senior Wes Stockstill making his first career varsity start on the backline.
Couple that with some pregame jitters and it seemed as if it would take a while for Hillsboro to get their sea legs. It would be just the opposite for the Panthers though as they wasted no time in controlling the ball at midfield and looking to make moves up the gut on the Toppers.
When Hillsboro finally found their way, Mattson and fellow senior mid Josh Bauman would connect and Bauman would shoot just wide on the Panther net. North Mac would answer back in a big way, however, as on the ensuing possession a Hillsboro breakdown just outside the 18 yard box resulted in a Panther tally as North Mac led 1-0 just 3:39 into the half.
The Panther goal seemed to get the Toppers’ attention as the visitors settled down both on offense as well as on defense. Playing from behind forced Hillsboro’s hand as they pressed sometimes a little too hard to pull back even.
At the 12:10 mark of the first, junior Shaw Riggs, who made his first ever career varsity start between the pipes, was there to bail the Toppers out after another miscue on the part of the Hillsboro backline easily could have made it a 2-0 game. Riggs was able to recognize the shift in the Panther offense though and made an incredible sprawling save to keep it a one goal contest.
After the save, the Toppers would ratchet up the offense and very nearly break through on several occasions, first at the halfway point of the first when Mattson would get a good look on frame but push his shot just wide. Bauman followed, utilizing an incredible fake at midfield to create an odd make rush and get a decent look on net that would be just over.
With the Toppers knocking, it seemed as if it would only be a matter of time before their persistence would pay off and, with 3:57 left in the first, it would.
North Mac midfielder Kaedyn Royer would be whistled for an infraction on the Panther half of the pitch, awarding the Toppers a free kick from just over 30 yards away from the endline.
Bauman would be called upon for the freebie but the senior would get just underneath the ball, sending it over the crossbar, out of play, and seemingly ending the drive.
On the ensuing goal kick however, a lack of communication on the part of the Panthers would allow the ball to roll free at midfield and Mattson, taking matters into his own hands, carried the ball on net and blasted a hard shot to beat North Mac keeper Austin Dohleman and knot the score at 1-1, a score that would remain until the break.
When play resumed in the second, the Toppers were much more patient on offense and this served them well as they forced the Panthers to play catch up for most of the opening minutes of the new half.
Just 30 seconds in, Hillsboro nearly scored their second goal of the game as Bauman manufactured a good look on net, but pushed it just wide.
Sophomore Ayden Brewer would also nearly grab a tally of his own but Dohleman was steady, making the save with his chest and sending it back up the other way.
Finally, at the 10:29 mark of the half, the Toppers would take the lead as Mattson, controlling the ball just inside the North Mac half, carried down and rocked a shot on net.
Mattson’s shot was a laser that actually hit the left goal post, but Bauman would pick up the rebound and slide the ball past Dohleman from practically a zero angle to put Hillsboro up 2-1. That’s when things would get shaky for the road team, however.
The Toppers, who in recent years have struggled to be a team who could protect a lead, once again let history repeat itself as North Mac would capitalize on a Hillsboro mental mistake with 17:25 to knot the score at 2-2.
Minutes later, the Panthers would add another on another breakdown of communication culminating in a third unanswered goal with 5:30 left in the tilt to down the Toppers 4-2.
The JV was another story as a solid 40 minutes of soccer on the part of the younger group resulted in freshman forward Will Christian burying a shot with just over three minutes left in the game to give the Toppers a 1-0 win.
The varsity wouldn't have to wait long to get their first win as they would trounce Taylorville 8-0 on Wednesday, Aug. 28, in Hillsboro.
Josh Bauman had half of Hillsboro's goals in the win, with Ethan Lentz adding two and Dalton Greenwood chipping in one. After his heroics in the JV game on Monday, Will Christian added his first career varsity goal to finish out the scoring for the Toppers.
Hillsboro will look to keep the ball rolling on Saturday as they play their first two games of the Carlinville Kickoff Classic, against Metro-East Lutheran at 9 a.m. and against Springfield Lutheran at noon.
August 26 at Girard
Hillsboro (0-1) 1 1 - 2
North Mac 1 3 - 4
Goals: Hillsboro - Joe Mattson 1, Josh Bauman 1.
August 28 at Hillsboro
Taylorville 0 0 - 0
Hillsboro 5 3 - 8
Goals: Hillsboro - Josh Bauman 4, Ethan Lentz 2, Dalton Greenwood 1, Will Christian 1.
Record: Hillsboro (1-1).