Sabres blank North Stars for sixth straight shutout
By Seth Hancock
When Streamwood finds the net, it’s a pretty sure bet that it is going to walk away with a win.
That’s because of a defense that doesn’t seem to ever give its opponent a chance to score.
Entering Streamwood’s final Upstate Eight Conference River Division game of the season against visiting St. Charles North, the Sabres had earned five straight shutouts, including two against a St. Charles East team that has scored on average well over three goals per game.
That shutout streak went to six straight games as a first half goal by Nestor Ascencio held up as the Sabres earned a 1-0 victory over the North Stars on Thursday at Millennium Field.
“Now, that’s Sergio Blanco’s 12th shutout as a goalie and six in a row as a team. At this point of the season, I think that’s truly phenomenal,” Sabres coach Matt Polovin said. “Two of those shutouts going against St. Charles East helps out as well. I’m very proud of these guys.
“We still have more, of course, that we need to work on and just tweak a little bit getting ready for regionals, but I’ll take a 1-0 shutout. St. Charles North, they’re always a great team. They’re a little bit down this year, but they gave everything they could against us.”
Blanco didn’t have to do much work to earn the shutout in front of the net thanks to the starting back line of Mike Delaney, Christian Balbino, Alex Moreno and Erie Ortiz for the Sabres (13-2-3, 4-1-1).
The North Stars (2-10-2, 0-3-1) were unable to get a shot on goal and finished with just three shots for the game, all coming in the first half. Nick Graham had two of those shots and Matt Picinich one.
Polovin said the success of his defense can be attributed to teamwork.
“It’s just playing together. Really, that’s all it is,” Polovin said. “We don’t specifically man mark anyone. I never want to tell them you take number 6. It’s as a unit. We defend as a unit, we move as a unit.
“If someone moves up, we like to make our nice overlapping runs and we cover for each other as a unit. There’s a lot of talking out there. The same back four with Mike Delaney, Christian Balbino, Alex Moreno and Erie Ortiz and throw in Ivan Gonzalez in there as a sub when needed, those guys have just been a rock.
“It’s been a lot of fun to see those guys, every game, get stronger and stronger and stronger. When you think that you might beat them, one other guy steps in or Blanco comes charging out. He’s almost like a fifth defender back there when needed. He’s got great footwork, great hands and he’s very loud.”
On the other side of the ball, Streamwood created 21 shots with nine of those being on goal. But the Sabres chances weren’t always solid.
Ascencio had four shots in the game, but only one was on goal which resulted in the game-winner. His goal came on a free kick from just one yard outside of the box and he found the top left corner of the net with 14:54 left in the first half.
The senior has been struggling recently with his set pieces, so the goal was a bit of a relief for him.
“It’s very nice,” Ascencio said. “It’s kind of like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve been pretty close on several chances before and I finally put one in. It’s the game-winner, so it’s pretty good.”
Ascencio also said about his team’s back line: “The defense has been doing a great job for us. They’ve been solid in back, they’ve given Blanco big help and that goal in the first half just gave us a cushion. We became more comfortable, and that helped us throughout the game. But we also need to take advantage of more of the chances that we had.”
Christian Vences was a constant threat for the Sabres with 10 total shots, five of which came on goal. Most of those shots were right to North goalkeeper Billy Larsen, who did a good job keeping the North Stars in the game with eight saves, several of which came on diving stops.
The North Stars best scoring chance came with 17:26 left to play in the first half when a Picinich throw-in found Graham in front of the net. Graham’s header, however, just sailed over the frame, missing by inches.
Despite not getting a shot off in the second half, the North Stars offense featured more attacks. Picinich nearly hooked up with Chris Watson several times to create possible breakaway opportunities, and several Phillip Legare free kicks setup scoring opportunities in front of the net.
“I thought we did a little bit of a better job in the second half,” said North Stars’ coach Eric Willson. “We came out a little bit more defensive in the first half.”
“I thought, for the most part, that while they had possession they didn’t get a lot of clean chances on us in the first half with the exception being the free kick. You give up a free kick against a quality player like (Ascencio), that’s what happens.”
Despite the loss, Willson was particularly happy with the defensive performance of freshman Ryan Olson.
“It was more about playing a little more defensive against (Ascencio),” Willson said of the North Stars’ game plan. “That kid can play. I think (Ascencio) and (Vences) in the midfield were our major concerns.”
“As far as I’m concerned, Ryan Olsen, as a freshman, did an admirable job on (Ascencio). I’ve seen (Ascencio) run wild against other teams, and I thought besides that free kick I don’t think I saw (Ascencio) running all over the place. I was proud of the way Ryan battled him and played solid against him.”
Streamwood was celebrating its senior night. The Sabres’ seniors include Moreno, Vences, Ascencio, Christian Campos, Juan Munoz, Phil Lewy, Armondo Diaz, Ivan Leyva, Brandon Malpartida and Rene Bracamontes.
The Sabres have now allowed just nine goals in their 18 games which is an impressive feat for a team with little experience.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” Polovin said. “The one thing, for me, that’s so amazing about this team is that 90 percent of the guys on the team or more never had varsity experience before this year.
“Literally, we have three guys that were starters last year, one guy that was a good sub and the rest have never played a day of varsity. To do what we’re doing now, it’s so much fun to watch seeing how they’ve gotten bigger and bigger and better and better throughout this season.”