Tigers blank Porters to claim Lemont Cup title
By Steve Millar
For any team, winning a trophy like the Lemont Cup would be a big accomplishment.
For a Plainfield North squad coming off a couple tough years, though, it meant so much more.
“I don’t think anything I can say will describe the feeling,” North coach Jim O’Hara said shortly before receiving a Gatorade shower from his team.
“It’s phenomenal. We’ve had our struggles the past couple years and these guys have kept working hard. They’ve kept the right attitude.
“I’m so proud of them. This is their moment. These will be the moments they talk about five years from now.”
Austin Hansen and Logan Wright scored Saturday and the Tigers’ defense, led by tournament MVP Garrett Gathman, stood tall in a 2-0 win over Lockport in the championship match of the Lemont Cup.
The Tigers, who improved to 5-0-1, are quickly closing in on their win total from 2012’s 8-10-3 campaign.
“Our team chemistry this year is huge,” Hansen said. “Last year, we argued a lot. This year, we get along. We all like hanging out with each other. We’re playing very well.”
Lockport (3-2) hung tough in the first half, though it managed to put just one shot on goal despite several scoring chances.
Wright, however, delivered the dagger early in the second half with his eighth goal of the season.
Off a Porters turnover, North counter-attacked quickly and wound up with a 2-on-1 breakaway. Austin Collier had a chance to shoot, but instead slipped the ball across the box to Wright, who finished for a 2-0 lead with 34:26 to go.
It was redemption for Wright, who moments earlier had a breakaway and was denied by Lockport goalie Justin DeYoung.
“I definitely wanted another chance,” Wright said. “I didn’t know if Austin was going to shoot or pass, but he got it to me and it was just an easy tap-in for me.
“Winning this tournament shows that our program is up and coming. All of our confidence is growing a lot.”
Freshman Cade Fink had to make just one save to record the shutout. He got plenty of help from his back line, which twice swept away Porters’ scoring chances near the goal line.
Midway through the first half, Lockport’s Dan Michalik made a run into the box and dribbled around Fink, but was denied as Jake Novacek broke up the scoring chance.
With 5:54 left in the match, it was Sam Puglisi who came up with a non-goalie save, clearing Michalik’s shot off the goal line.
“We did a good job of getting the ball into the final third,” Lockport coach Chris Beal said. “We just didn’t finish. We’re off to a good start and I think we’re going to be strong throughout the year, but scoring will definitely be our weakness.”
Novacek, Puglisi, Gathman, Travis Foust and Mike Rago were terrific all day in the back for North.
“There are so many times that our defense is a support unit,” O’Hara said. “There were so many times that (Lockport) had an advantage and all of a sudden one of our guys would come over to support and stop the chance.”
For a team that’s averaged four goals a game, there hasn’t been a ton of pressure on the defense early in the season. Saturday there was, and the Tigers responded.
“The key was communication throughout the back,” Gathman said. “Everyone stepped up and all the guys helped out.”
Gathman was surprised to be named tournament MVP.
“I think it just shows how hard we work as a team,” he said. “It’s not really about me. I was pretty amazed to get this because I think there were other guys who deserved it. I’m definitely not going to complain or give it back, though. I’ll take it.”
O’Hara credited Gathman, a senior captain along with Wright and Tyler Petprachan, for much of the team’s early success.
“Garrett has improved and has stepped up his game so much,” O’Hara said. “He is a true leader.”
The Tigers’ first goal, in the 12th minute of the match, came off a perfectly-placed corner kick from Petprachan, who played the ball into the middle of the box where Hansen fired a shot that deflected off the body of diving goalie Greg Zieba and in.
“It was just a scrappy goal,” Hansen said. “I worked to get into the middle and the ball came to me and I got the shot off.”
The Tigers are next in action Tuesday at Glenbard South. They host Bolingbrook on Wednesday before a Saturday visit to Joliet Central.
One thing any of Plainfield North’s upcoming opponents can expect to see is a squad brimming with confidence.
“This was such a big confidence boost for us,” Hansen said. “We have so much enthusiasm for the rest of the season now.”