There’s an old adage in sports that states it's hard to beat a team three times and most times those adages ring true. Take two of three in a baseball series and that’s a solid showing. Take two of three hands in card games and you’re money ahead. But to beat a team three times, the law of averages says that’s a tall order.
This year, though, the Hillsboro High School boys soccer team has been anything but average and that success has propelled them forward as one of the teams to beat in the area.
With a 15-3-2 overall record this season including a perfect 9-0 record in league play, the Toppers had plenty to be happy about but as anyone who follows sports knows, when the postseason begins, anything can happen.
Struggling teams can catch fire at the right time and go deep just as easily as a great team can come in, have a hiccup and get bounced.
Luckily for the orange and black, the first round of regional play was more success as a goal in the first half and staunch defense thereafter allowed Hillsboro to beat the East Alton Wood River Oilers 1-0, their third victory over the Oilers this season alone, ending EAWR’s year and sending the Toppers to a regional final.
A couple of years ago the IHSA decided to change the way the postseason was structured and did away with the typical “regional” idea where teams from a specific or logical geographical region were ranked and sent to play.
What took the place of the traditional regional that awarded smaller schools a regional title for a job well-done was a “sub-sectional” idea that took ten or 11 teams, ranked them from first to last and then took the top two teams and sent them to two different “regional” sites to play. From there, the other remaining teams would be sent to the postseason sites based mostly on geography.
For the Toppers, who tied for third overall in the rankings behind powerhouse parochial Alton Marquette and Teutopolis, the fact they tied with Newton, who is located closer to T-Town ended up sending Hillsboro to the Alton regional because of their location. Sound confusing? Yea, it is. But, nonetheless, the Toppers made the most of their opportunity Tuesday night.
When play started for both teams, the intensity seemed to pick right up where it left off last Wednesday when the squads met in the Toppers’ regular season finale, a tilt the Toppers won 2-0. That contest was a bit of a physical affair and Tuesday’s game was no different as both teams took right at each other from the opening whistle.
Hillsboro would have a decent chance early as sophomore forward Ethan Lentz, who started at midfield instead of up front, was tripped just inside the midfield dividing line, giving the Toppers a free kick. Fellow sophomore Devin Speiser was called on to take the kick and he placed a nice ball in front of the Oiler net, but the EAWR backline was able to get a foot on the ball and clear it up field.
At the midway point of the half, disaster would nearly strike for Hillsboro as a miscue just outside the 18 yard box very nearly resulted in an Oiler goal. Senior defender Jake Holcomb, who came out to play the lead pass, caught an edge of his spike in the turf and this caused him to be trapped out of position.
EAWR forward Ethan Moore would find himself all alone in front as a result, but his shot would clang off the post and no one from the Oilers could handle the ricochet on the putback as Hillsboro would clear the zone.
At the other end, freshman Will Christian and senior Joe Mattson would have good looks on the EAWR net but neither could break through and it would seem as if the two squads would take a 0-0 tie into the break.
Then, with 1:50 left in the half, freshman Adison Pollard took a terrific lead pass from the Hillsboro backfield and worked his way up the right side of the field and deep into the Oiler zone. Pollard would send a perfect ball in front that Lentz stepped over to allow it to roll through to sophomore Kennon Beecher and Beecher would bury the shot putting the Toppers up 1-0.
When play resumed in the second, Hillsboro would very nearly double their lead as a bang-bang play in front of the Oiler net resulted in a deflection right in front of the EAWR keeper. The ball would deflect up and over the crossbar however, ending the drive.
Hillsboro would keep up the attack almost netting a second goal with 6:28 left as sophomore Gavin Matoush found himself all alone, but his shot would go just wide and freshman Will Christian would do the same with his shot just seconds later.
The lone goal would be enough, however, as the Toppers held on to advance to Friday and a 6 p.m. showdown with a team favored by many to win the state championship, Alton Marquette.
“Really proud of our perseverance,” Topper coach Jason Burke said. “The first half we didn’t play very well and we were still able to get a lead. We need to tighten up the little things that affected us early in this one. Proud that we didn’t ever quit though and we’re headed back to a regional title game. Should be a good one.”
October 15 at Alton
Hillsboro 1 0 1
East Alton-Wood River 0 0 0
Scoring: Hillsboro - Kennon Beecher (Addison Pollard).
Record: Hillsboro (16-3-2).