Blackhawks beat Huskies to claim fifth straight win
By Curt Herron
A week ago, West Aurora's players were feeling down after losing 1-0 to visiting Wheaton North to fall to 0-5-1 in their last six matches.
It was a much different scene for the Blackhawks following Tuesday's DuPage Valley Conference home meeting with Naperville North, however.
This time out West left Ken Zimmerman field feeling pumped up after it scored late to pull out a 2-1 victory over the Huskies in Aurora.
The victory was satisfying for coach Joe Sustersic's squad for several different reasons, not least of which was who it came against.
After experiencing much frustration against the perennial DVC power through the years, West beat the Huskies for the second straight season.
It was the first DVC win in five tries for the Blackhawks, who play two more in the league before returning to the Upstate Eight Conference.
West hosts Glenbard East in its home finale on Thursday and plays at DVC front-runner Lake Park next Tuesday in its final match in the league.
Just as important for the Blackhawks, though, is the fact that they now own a five-match winning streak after enjoying a successful weekend.
Thanks to a 4-0 showing on Friday and Saturday, West captured the championship in the Rock Island Tournament, providing it with a key spark.
The Blackhawks (9-5-3, 1-4) relied on their two captains to spell the difference in their dramatic victory over the Huskies 98-5-2, 3-3).
Keeper Alex Guillen came up with a series of big stops against North while Jose Gallegos connected on the match-winner in the 77th minute.
"I had Alex for like 11 saves, with three quality ones that were goal-preventing ones," Sustersic said. "And at the same time, Naperville North hit a few posts here and there to let us stay in the game.
"So we had one captain in Alex stopping point-blank shots to keep us in the game and on the other side, we had Jose burying the ball with four minutes left in the game.
"Jose did something that he's been told to do all the time, when you get a shot, take it and let the goalie stop you. It wasn't the perfect shot but it had a weird bounce and it crossed the line and we've lost games that way.
"We've had games against Glenbard East, Wheaton North and Wheaton South where we had actually better stats, but the only stat that counts is one that's on the scoreboard, and today it West Aurora two and Naperville North one."
Although things haven't gone as well as Sustersic wanted them to in West's final year of DVC play, he hopes to finish on a positive.
"We couldn't beat Naperville North for years, so to beat them at their place last year and now at our place this year lets us go out on a high note," Sustersic said.
"I apologize that we haven't gotten the job done against the other teams in the conference but that's what happens when you have growing pains like we've had.
"When you have 15 juniors with 13 of them not having any varsity experience and three or four seniors who were role players or j-v players last year, this was a new team."
The veteran Blackhawks coach hopes that the current win streak, coupled with his team's new-found scoring touch, continues for awhile.
"I'm not ready to say that we have the formula, but the guys have believed in themselves, even when they've made some mistakes," Sustersic said. "Now we've got some confidence and it's a good time to be rolling.
"The thing that impressed me was that we got off the snide of not scoring goals after getting 13 out there. If we had played North a week ago, we would have said that we couldn't do it and been content with a 3-0 loss.
"We've had to go through some peaks and valleys, and right now we're on a peak and are looking really good. But we also know that a week and a half ago that we couldn't score a goal to save our lives."
While the Blackhawks have plenty to be upbeat about from their last few matches, the Huskies have been the frustrated ones of late.
Unlike West, North won last Tuesday over Glenbard East, capping a 6-1 run during which time it had a trio of three-goal performances.
But during the last week, Steve Goletz's Huskies have collected just two goals while falling three times and playing a scoreless draw.
The Huskies certainly had plenty of opportunities against West, but Guillen did his best to add to the visitors' recent frustrations.
"It was a wide-open game and both teams did a pretty good job of attacking but they did a better chance of finishing their chances," Goletz said. "We've talked about it all year, but we only have 21 goals on the season.
"We're not giving ourselves much margin in the back about letting in goals if you can't score, so we have to start getting that sorted out. We had tons of chances that I'm hoping on another day the kids will put away.
"But that's the game of soccer and we'll move on. I like the way that the kids battled and went down twice and came back. We go down with five minutes left and we get two great chances to tie it but it didn't go our way.
"Give West Aurora credit since it played very hard tonight and it's a very nice team that Joe has got this year. I told our defense that it's cruel that it ended 2-1 since I thought that they played very well."
It was only fitting that the back-and-forth contest should be decided in the late going with both squads having chances to connect.
The Blackhawks moved in front for good with just under four minutes remaining and held on as the Huskies' efforts to tie fell short.
Gallegos came up with a ball that deflected back toward him and then fired in a try that took an odd bounce before going into the net.
"I saw the ball and then it volleyed and I went out to it," Gallegos said. "I was happy with my shot and just waited for it to go into the net. My eyes lit up and I wanted to celebrate.
"I wanted a goal so that we could get a win against a good team like Naperville North. We won the tournament and then beat one of the top teams so hopefully we're turning our season around.
"This win is very important. It's always hard to beat Naperville teams since they're very good. People think that we're just West Aurora so it's good to come out and get a good win like this."
The drama was far from done at that point, however, as the Huskies did everything that they could to try to force overtime play.
Guillen halted a short try by Chris Ensign just after the score and then Alec Thompson's free kick just missed Geoff Horn in front.
In the final moments, an Ensign flip throw went through the box and a long pass from keeper Christian Robert nearly led to a score.
West struck first in the match, capitalizing on a penalty in the 47th minute which Geo Martinez converted to put the hosts ahead.
The Huskies looked to respond as Thompson sent a free kick to Guillen, who halted a header from Ensign off a Wesley Wong free kick.
Zach Peterson lined a free kick off the crossbar, Christian Martinez was denied by Robert and Guillen thwarted Ensign in short order.
North finally evened things up in the 55th minute when Wong's long free kick found Horn in front and he connected from close-range.
Over the next few minutes, the visitors got good tries from Peterson while Steve Rivera and Michael Acosta went wide for the hosts.
After Guillen punched a threatening indirect from Wong, a Mark Auden shot looked like it might go in but Jacob Sheldon cleared it.
The Blackhawk keeper had to deflect a try off a teammate on a Wong free kick before Grant Lesak and Ensign put efforts over the net.
Shortly after Ricky Torres was a bit wide of the mark, the Blackhawks moved in front again and this time they would keep the lead.
"When you're playing against a team like Naperville North, you always have to be on your toes since you never know when they're going to have that breakaway or that good shot," Guillen said.
"After they scored, I thought that we might have our heads down but we kept it up and then got another goal in and from there we just played as hard as we could. We didn't want to go to overtime.
"We were on a five-game losing streak and then we went to a tournament and got it back up again. We came here hoping for the win and we got it and hopefully now we can keep this going."
By comparison to the frenzied final 40 minutes, the initial half was a bit dull, although both sides still had good great chances.
West's Gallegos and Oscar Gaytan and North's Grant Borg and Peterson set the tone early by getting shots in the first 10 minutes.
After Geo Martinez was denied on a free kick, a header by Horn was halted and Ensign got free before Guillen shut down the threat.
In the final 20 minutes of the first half, Chris Maclean was stopped on a liner and then a Christian Martinez effort was deflected.
Torres, Juan Pablo Morales and Geo Martinez were denied by Robert over the next few minutes before Marek Jurkiewicz hit the post.
As the break neared, Jurkiewicz had a shot try cleared by a West defender and Geo Martinez was stopped on a last-second attempt.
North hopes to bounce back with a home win on Friday against West Chicago before it entertains rival Naperville Central on Tuesday.