Cougars edged by Griffins in L-Way North invite
NOTE: MATCH PHOTOS WILL APPEAR LATER
By Curt Herron
Plainfield South went through a brief stretch in the early going where scoring goals had been an issue.
But the Cougars had more success in that department this week, and picked up a pair of wins to open play in the Lincoln-Way North Invite.
However, South had a little bit too much success putting goals into the net on Saturday at Lincoln-Way East and that proved to be costly.
Although it scored three times on its own, it also yielded a pair of own goals in a back-and-forth match with the Griffins in Frankfort.
With a trip to the tournament's semifinals on the line, East scored a pair of goals of its own in the late going to rally for a 4-3 win.
Despite the tough defeat, South coach Dave Brown was pleased by the progress that his team made during an otherwise successful week.
The Cougars (3-3-1) overcame a 2-1 halftime deficit and looked like they might prevail before the Griffins struck with two late scores.
Bryan Dillberg connected twice within a 2:27-span which extended into the final minute to advance the hosts to Thursday's semifinals.
"Because of goal-differential, we knew that we needed to win the game in order to move on in the tournament," Brown said. "So at halftime we talked about pushing the pace and the tempo and attacking the ball. If we were going to lose the game, we wanted to lose in an aggressive fashion, and unfortunately, that's what happened.
"We kept pushing forward and were looking to score goals where maybe in a state playoff-type game we would have sat back a little bit more. But I wanted the guys to be aggressive a play a little more on a beautiful day. I loved the way our kids competed and fought back from being down 1-0 and 2-1 to take a 3-2 lead.
"But we have nothing to feel bad about. Yeah, we had a few lapses at the end which we'll want to clean up by later in the year. But this was our first chance at kind of an elimination-type game this year against a good Lincoln-Way East side with good size and speed. Tip your hat to them since they made a good play on the game-winning goal."
After kicking off the tournament with a 6-0 home victory over Providence Catholic, the Cougars won 3-1 at Bolingbrook on Thursday.
"I thought that we played probably our most-complete game of the year against Bolingbrook on Thursday night," Brown said. "A lot of our guys play on club with a lot of those guys so it was a meaningful match for them in that regard. To kind of take it to them on their home turf for the first 40 minutes was nice to see.
"And then on Tuesday we took care of business against Providence at home. We've been talking about getting some momentum going forward after starting out 0-2 after starting out with two tough teams in Lincoln-Way Central and Naperville Central. We've been trying to find ourselves since then and the positives far outweigh the negatives.
"We're scoring goals now and creating chances and I think that we'll be fine going forward. The SPC (Southwest Prairie Conference) is a conference where every game you have two teams who can win on any day. So this was a good test for us because we're going to see long throws and teams with good set pieces in our conference."
Following the shaky start in the opening half, things were looking up for South after it struck twice within 8:30 after the break.
Dominic Nirchi found Cesar Bautista for a short attempt just over two minutes into the two half to even things at two-apiece.
And then Miguel Espinoza sent a liner toward the net and Nirchi put in the loose ball to give the Cougars their first lead.
Nirchi, Espinoza and Anthony Hernandez tried to add to that advantage prior to the half's midpoint but they all were denied.
"I have faith in my team," said Bautista, who also scored a first-half goal. "We may have a bad first half but in the second half we always get ourselves together. We push and strive in order to try to overcome the adversity. This was anyone's game, honestly, and unfortunately for us, luck was on their side today.
"I used to score goals all of the time, but then I hit quite a rough patch and it's like, 'what happened?' So hopefully I'm getting my mojo back. We started off kind of rough with two losses but we've looking to get back up there. I love this team. Everyone is pushing as hard as they can and we don't have any arguments."
East had most of the chances during the final quarter of the match, beginning with a free kick and corner from Kris Kirchhoff.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, Alan Hernandez got free and looked to tie things but Mike Decker deflected his attempt.
Things finally clicked for the hosts in the 77th minute when Hernandez found Dillberg, who got free and tapped in a short try.
Then with just 46 seconds left, freshman Joel Seielstad made a perfect pass to an open Dillberg, who connected for the winner.
"Today spoke to our character, more than anything," East coach Ryan Decker said. "We kept battling back. We were down 3-2 with a few minutes left and we could easily have laid down and died but this group finds a way. I'm still concerned with our ability to defend, but it will get better. We have dangerous threats and we can score goals.
"Bryan has got such pace about him and he times his runs nicely and can get in behind so if we can put good balls in, he'll get on the end of them and he made those two count today. And the touch on that last pass from Joel, to put it behind the way he did, was perfectly-weighted. His composure on the ball is fantastic.
"Going into the season, one of our short-term goals was to get out of this pool in this tournament. We clearly wanted to perform better in the Hinsdale tournament than we did so we knew coming into this week that we wanted to go 3-0 and we achieved that goal, even though we made it exciting along the way."
Defense has been the Griffins' strength through the years but Decker thinks that things could be a bit different this season.
"Lincoln-Way East has defended very well but this group is the exact opposite," Decker said. "This is a very attacking-minded group. The senior leadership and our players are comfortable in the attack and we don't have as many defenders as we once had.
"The creativity of Sean Sibley, Kris Kirchhoff, Alan Hernandez, Bryan Dillberg and Conor Hughes make our attack run. And as you saw, they all were involved today at some point in making chances. A lot of that I don't even have to teach, which is the nice part."
In the opening half, East got things started when Conor Hughes sent a header toward the net that was headed away by Carlos Arechiga.
Shortly after his corner kick was punched away, Espinoza sent in another one which Nirchi got a touch on before it was halted.
A bit later, Nirchi was thwarted on a liner and then keeper Eric Fischer made a sliding save on a short attempt by Sean Sibley.
The Griffins took their first lead in the 16th minute when Austin Jenig sent in a corner kick which deflected off of a Cougar.
Over the next few minutes, Fischer denied tries by Seielstad and Sibley before Nirchi suffered the same fate on an attempt,
In the 30th minute, Bautista's pressure helped lead to a hand ball in the box and the senior promptly converted the penalty.
After Fischer stopped two shots from Kirchhoff and another from Austin Wegforth, East moved back in front on another own goal.
Jenig's throw-in during the 38th minute went off of a Cougar defender to give the hosts a 2-1 advantage at the intermission.
"We had heard that Lincoln-Way East had a long throw and they were pretty dangerous on their set pieces, so we made that a point of emphasis," Brown said. "But in the first half we were more on our heels than I would have liked on their set pieces.
"We took deflections off our guys before they went in and that tells me as a coach that we're not attacking the ball and were more just waiting for a play to happen. We had the guys marked but just didn't attack the ball to make the play in a positive fashion and it goes in our net."
South gets some time to focus on things in practice since it returns to action on Saturday to conclude play in the tournament.