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Coach: Dave Brown
Assistant coach: Bryant Williams
Eric Fischer Jr., GK
Tommy Aviles Jr., F
Michael Decker Jr., M/F
Ricky Hamilton Sr., D
Salvador Chavez Sr., M/F
Dominic Nirchi Jr., M/D
Cesar Bautista Sr., F/M
Xavier Gonzalez Sr., M
Miguel Espinoza Sr., M/F
Julian Tejeda Sr., F/M
Colin Marmoll Jr., M
Andy Prado Sr., D
Adam Burt Jr., M
Danny Mora Sr., D
Michael Santillo Jr., D
Parker Gallt Jr., M/F
Anthony Hernandez Jr., D/M
Chase Cleasby So., D
Colin Lay Sr., M
Colby Soderman Sr., D
Carlos Arechiga Sr., D
Christian Acosta Jr., D/M

Cougars battle but fall to rival North


By Jeff Davis

Plainfield North senior forward Manny Bofah put his thoughts into action Thursday.

Bofah broke a scoreless tie with the only goal of the first half to help the host Tigers celebrate Senior Night with a 3-0 win over Plainfield South in a Southwest Prairie Conference game.

“It means a lot,” Bofah said of the goal. “That’s what I’ve been thinking about for a long time is scoring on Senior Night. You see other people do it, you just really wanted to have that for the rest of your life. It’s my Senior Night. I had to leave with something.”

Bofah, who normally comes off the bench, was one of 10 seniors that started the game with freshman goalkeeper Cade Fink. That senior group – which also includes forward Logan Wright, midfielders Tyler Petprachan, Matt Farley, Grant Smiley and defenders Grant Gathman, Jake Novacek, Sam Puglisi, Mike Ragu and Christian Esperza – has led North to its most successful season ever. The Tigers improved to 14-2-2 overall and 5-1 in the SPC and can earn at least a share of their first conference title in school history with a win over Oswego East (3-10-3, 2-4) Tuesday.

Gathman and Smiley had assists on second-half goals by sophomores Austin Collier and Austin Hansen that sealed the well-played victory.

“You never know (with Senior Night) because there’s so many different emotions that can work in your favor, work against you, something that obviously these guys cherish and something they’re looking forward to,” North coach Jim O’Hara said. “We had a few seniors give speeches yesterday and a lot of them were emotionally drained and it really meant a lot to them.

“All these kids have played together for so long. They’re all friends, you knew (this season) was coming and it’s amazing to see it come together because the last few years we’ve had some struggles. They are 100 percent putting their mark on the program. When people look at this program down the line for 10, 15, 20 years, they’re going to look at that first team that had true success. Obviously the season’s not over and obviously we still have some unfinished business.”

North’s seniors spent about 10 minutes after Thursday’s game posing for pictures with each other as their careers together wind down.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because a lot of us started on a really young team together back when we were in third and fourth grade,” Gathman said. “To come back to high school and play with them for another four years feels unbelievable to think that we could do this our senior year. We all wanted it, but it actually worked out in our favor this year, which is really exciting.”

South (5-9-3, 2-3) certainly looked game to try to spoil North’s big night – and SPC title hopes – right from the start. The Cougars’ Miguel Espinoza booted a 35-yard free kick that was saved by Fink just 1 minute, 10 seconds into the game. Julian Tejeda then had a couple early threats, but Gathman and Co. wouldn’t let him get off hard shots. Cougars’ defender Anthony Hernandez then stepped up to launch a 33-yard attempt that just sailed over the net. Senior Cesar Bautista also challenged the Tigers’ defense with his speed and ball handling ability.

After Tejeda had a hard shot saved and each team missed wide on a pair of shots, North’s Hansen crossed a pass from the left corner toward Bofah, who scored out in front of the net for a 1-0 lead with 12:50 left in the first half.

“I just tried to get in front of my defender and just tap it in,” Bofah said. “It bounced off the defender, he kicked it off the line and I just hit it in.”

“That was just (Bofah) hustling,” O’Hara said. “Getting the first goal is huge because the game was very even throughout. (South) didn’t back down at all, which I know they won’t.”

Indeed, South had a great chance to tie the game later in the first half, but North defender Novacek was able to clear a ball off the goal line.

“That was huge,” O’Hara said.

North then extended its lead to 2-0 with an impressive goal 5:27 into the second half. Gathman heaved a throw-in from the left sideline from 20 yards out across toward the right side of the net, where Collier made a quick move to convert a goal.

“We were telling each other, let’s go back close, try to get it as far as we can in,” Gathman said. “And (Collier) was just there at the right time, and he just finished it.

“As a center back, I don’t care if I get goals. I’ll take assists every day. I like finding my teammates’ feet and trying to get them the best opportunity to score as possible.”

It was Gathman’s 13th assist of the season and demonstrated part of his well-rounded role on the team.

“He has played absolutely phenomenal,” O’Hara said of Gathman. “I can’t say enough about him as a leader. I know it’s a cliché, but he really is another coach on the team. I say something and he delivers that message, which is really nice. He’s a great defender. You look at him as far as balls out of the air, he’s winning or he’s competing and challenging every single time out of the air and that just makes or breaks a team. And then on top of that offensively he’s got through either direct kicks or long throws 13 assists. A focus of us has been set plays, and we definitely take advantage of that.”

South’s best scoring chance came with 23:09 left when junior defender Michael Santillo sent a long free kick from the center circle to Bautista, whose header was batted up against the crossbar by goalie Fink (9 saves), who then hurt his back colliding with the post as the ball bounced out of trouble. Earlier, Fink charged out of the net to beat charging Peter Galt on a potential breakaway lead pass from Bautista.

“This is his fourth shutout in five games as a freshman goalie playing varsity. Pretty amazing,” O’Hara said. “Not many freshman goalies are starting varsity and notching shutouts as well. He played very well today.”

Hansen capped the scoring when he took a long lead pass from Smiley, beat a defender and chipped a shot over South junior goalie Eric Fischer (8 saves).

“Probably the story of the night is we make three mistakes that they capitalize on and we didn’t take care of our chances when we had them,” South coach Dave Brown said. “That’s kind of been the story of the games we’ve lost. We’ve rarely been dominated. I thought (this game) was pretty even.

“But all in all I love the energy of the guys. The competitive spirit was there. We have a lot of high character guys who have a lot of varsity experience. It’s just been about getting over that hump this year. We’ve been good some games, a little bit inconsistent some games. We’re just trying to find that consistent level of play like you saw the first half and bringing that for 80 minutes where we probably had a few lapses the second half where North took the game over at some points.”

Now Brown – whose team also received some solid defensive play from Santillo, Hernandez, senior Carlos Arechiga and sophomore Chase Cleasby and solid midfield play from juniors Adam Burt and Michael Decker – will try to build some momentum for the playoffs in its final two conference games.

“We’ve been playing well lately, getting some guys back healthy and just kind of challenging them,” Brown said. “We’re just kind of looking at each conference game as a championship game at this point, trying to test ourselves and get us ready for the playoffs so we don’t have to change the way we’ve been playing when we get there. Every game is kind of an elimination game for us at this point, so that’s the way we’re looking at it.”


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