Hilltoppers post 7th shutout, top DG North
By Dave Owen
Quietly but impressively, Glenbard West and Downers Grove North have emerged as two high-quality defensive teams.
One of the great defensive plays of the year by the Trojans’ Tony Zea and a brick wall performance by Ivan Barajas and the Hilltoppers’ defender corps were part of 68 minutes of shutout soccer Thursday before two late goals earned host Glenbard West a 2-0 win.
“Strong defense has been our key the last few years,” Glenbard West senior midfielder David Ortega said. “Even though we don’t have much offense, it’s always about a strong defense. We wait for chances and try to capitalize on those the best we can.”
The Hilltoppers (9-4-2) and goalkeeper Rob White posted their seventh shutout of the season and have allowed just four goals in the last nine games. But extending their unbeaten streak to five games in a row wasn’t easy.
“We tried our best, but they gave us quite a fight,” said Glenbard West junior Jamie Hernandez, who would eventually score the game-winning goal late in the second half.
Downers North (3-13-3) has produced solid October defensive efforts in narrow 1-0 losses to Morton and Downers South, and showed why in a big way in the first half on Thursday.
In the 23rd minute, Glenbard West speedster Paul Selman raced in on left wing and fired a low 10-yard rocket, but Trojan goalkeeper Ray Greco made a great save with his foot to his left to repel the great chance.
Four minutes later, Zea one-upped the Downers North goalkeeper with one of the defensive plays of the year.
An Ortega pass sprung Selman in on goal again. Selman barely beat a charging Greco to the ball just inside the box and got enough on the ball to send a 15-yard shot towards the open right corner of the net.
But sprinting in, Zea arrived at the goal line just in time to stop the shot, and then added to his hustle play by also blocking Ian Winans’ point blank rebound attempt.
“Tony’s a captain, a track athlete, and he has that burst of speed,” Downers North coach Brian Gervase said. “He plays soccer to the best of his ability, and he’s a great athlete. He does stuff like that – he makes things happen, and that’s what we need out there.”
Amazement on the Trojans’ side was matched by frustration for Glenbard West.
“I passed to Paul and I thought he had it,” Ortega said. “I was like ‘assist coming for me.’ Then Ian (Winans) hits (the rebound) and ‘oh, come on.’ But you have to get back up and try again.”
The Hilltoppers eventually did bounce back, finally breaking through with 11:34 left in the match to cap off a wild minute of end-to-end soccer.
Greco’s leaping catch in traffic of Hernandez’s chip towards traffic with 12:30 left ignited a quick counter up right wing by the Trojans’ Trace Dimos – whose 18-yard angle shot went just wide of the far post.
Glenbard West would respond quickly, and finish in unusual fashion.
William Lanzillo burst up the middle and was able to tip the ball past a charging Greco, on a play similar to Selman’s first half near miss. This time, Hernandez chased down the ball at the right post and just tucked the ball past hustling defenders Brett Pyburn and Carter Tome into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“William had a run through the middle, then two guys (including Greco) came into him,” Hernandez said. “It kicked a little bit too much to the side, but I was there to push it in.”
Pyburn, Tome and the ball all wound up in the back of the net at the plays’ end, showing again the all-out effort the Trojans display despite a frustrating win-loss mark.
“We really played our best match today and really felt we had the better run of the match,” Gervase said. “I really feel for these guys because they need a good win like today, and they played well enough to win.
“And not 30 seconds before that (first goal) happened we could have finished. That was an important turning point. But they played well and capitalized.”
Glenbard West went up 2-0 with 3:12 left on another strange play. Off a John Emanuel throw-in, Ortega and Mario Sotelo both battled for possession in a scramble at the left post before Sotelo’s attempt deflected into the net.
“It hit Mario’s head or shoulder, and it bounced straight back because the keeper’s foot bounced it in,” Ortega said. “It was a weird goal. I was so surprised – I don’t know how it went in, but it did.
“Once we scored that, I think DGN kind of stopped playing a little bit because its mood went down.”
Greco was brilliant and busy all night in goal, making a nice diving save on Lanzillo’s 18-yard shot with 35:50 left and also jumping in traffic to grab a 50-yard Barajas direct kick with 14:20 left.
“Ray Greco our keeper has really turned the corner,” Gervase said. “He’s played well most of the season, and the last couple games he’s just been outstanding. He’s very athletic.”
Other Hilltopper chances midway through the second half included a Lanzillo shot just wide of the net, and a strong 55-yard Barajas direct kick into the box that Ortega headed wide.
Barajas matched his dangerous restarts by limiting trouble from Trojan attackers. He nicely denied Dimos’ drive off a steal at midfield in the first half, then made a nice steal on Mike Molloy’s attack up left wing with 31 minutes left.
White’s catch of a 45-yard Miles Larson free kick marked his only save of the second half. Defenders Robert Schoeneich and Nathan Gaertner and midfielders Selman, Ortega, Shawn Herrera and Steven Rojc have been among other players instrumental to a tight Hilltopper defense.
“The first half was kind of slow – we came out kind of flat I guess,” Ortega said of his team’s overall play. “In the second half we kept more possession. In the first half we were just booting it, but in the second half we kept it on the ground a little more.”
Downers North’s strong showing featured a big contribution from newcomer Jordan Nunez.
“Jordan has been out the whole season, and he’s finally healthy and he makes a difference for us,” Gervase said. “He looked really good today.
“Mike Molloy is finally healthy again and playing well, and I thought Jake Maurer our center back played really well today. So those are good things for us.
“We just need to get more offensive and get consistent play out of everyone. We’re healthy and we’re pumped for Downers South and our state tournament game in a couple of weeks.
“We just have to be quicker,” Gervase added. “There were plenty of turnovers for us, and sometimes we’re still gelling on who’s moving where because of the turnover in personnel . But that’s going to be the big difference. If we start going quicker and getting some of those balls in that are almost going in, we’ll get there."
The Hilltoppers’ recent offensive rise fuels their deserved late-season optimism.
“It’s just getting to know each other better and working a lot with each other,” Hernandez said. “We’re getting to know where are without having to look, so that’s an advantage to our team.”