“O jogo bonita” or “the beautiful game” is thrown around plenty in soccer, but sometimes, to be successful, the uglier the better.
Hillsboro Head Coach Jason Burke had a feeling that Tuesday was going to be one of those nights as his team took on Altamont on Oct. 12, in the semifinal of the Altamont Regional tournament. After each team scored in the first 12 minutes, Hillsboro at 3:45 and Altamont at 28 and change, the two teams battled for 68 scoreless minutes... then 10 more... then five and a half more before something finally broke.
“We kept preaching that it was going to be something fluky, but it was going to be because we were in the right place at the right time. And finally it worked,” Burke said of the lead up to the goal by Logan Murray with 4:28 left in the second overtime period that gave Hillsboro a 2-1 win over Altamont.
The beauty of the goal was that most of the time, Murray isn’t even directly involved in the type of situation that gave the Hiltoppers the win. With just under five minutes left in the second OT, Gavin Matoush took a throw-in from about 15 feet from the corner flag, uncorking a long toss toward the center of the box.
After a brief scrum, Deklan Riggs put a head on the ball, causing it to bounce in front of the net. After a miss by an Altamont defender, the ball found its way in front of Murray, who drilled home the game-winner from close range to move Hillsboro on to Friday’s regional championship against Newton.
“That’s been something we’ve really worked hard on this season because Gavin has such an excellent throw,” said Burke, whose team had success with the play all night, but hadn’t been able to add anything to the single tally on the scoreboard. “We’ve gotten to the point where we want to move a guy up and move a little guy back. Ironically, that little guy is typically Logan.”
Murray’s score knocked the monkey off Hillsboro’s back that had been perched there since Matt Page banged home the first goal less than four minutes into the contest. The Toppers had two chances early on to make it 2-0, but weren’t able to convert and Altamont’s Noah Klimpel made it hurt when he tied the game up at 1-1 with 28 minutes to play in the first half.
“That’s something we’ve had trouble with all year. We’ve racked our brains for finishing drills,” Burke said. “There have been so many times that we’ve played teams that we thought we could have done so much more against them if we could have finished.”
While the ball wasn’t finding its way into the back of the net, it also wasn’t finding its way into Hillsboro territory often as the Topper back line of Matt Page, Devin Speiser, Chase Saathoff and Deklan Riggs limited Altamont’s chances to test Hillsboro keeper Mitchell Lowe.
The onslaught of offensive opportunities increased in the final 13 minutes of the first quarter as Hillsboro won three corner kicks in a two-minute span, with a header by Ethan Lentz coming within inches of the right post.
Lentz had another chance on a header after a throw-in by Matoush that popped over the crossbar, and set up a solid scoring chance when he drew a foul near the Altamont bench, which resulted in a free kick and another near miss.
Those final 13 minutes were the trend of the second half and the first overtime as well, with Hillsboro limiting Altamont’s opportunities, but not being able to get the go-ahead goal despite many chances.
The Indians did a good job on the defensive end to add to Hillsboro’s finishing troubles, beating the Toppers to through balls and mucking things up on corner kicks.
Hillsboro’s best chances would come from Lentz, who sent a pair of 30-yard wonder strikes just over the bar, and Adison Pollard, who clanged a shot off the crossbar that would have made it 2-1 if it had been an inch lower.
While some of those shots had potential to be works of art, ultimately it was Murray swooping in for the poacher’s goal that made the difference.
“I feel like we try to get that perfect ball on a tee, but we’ve scored so many dirty goals,” Burke said of Hillsboro’s finishing struggles. “If we can do that and they can believe in it, then it’s going to happen.”
Closing the game out, Hillsboro nearly scored again, with Pollard directing a header to the top left corner that Altamont keeper Connor Klitzing somehow snatched one-handed out of the air and threw the other way before it crossed the plane.
For much of the final four minutes the ball stayed on the Altamont end as Hillsboro celebrated the victory at the final horn.
The focus now turns to Newton, who is 18-3 after beating Effingham St. Anthony 4-0 in Tuesday’s other regional semifinal. The Eagles also beat Altamont in the regular season 7-2, the only common opponent for the two clubs.
While Burke watched Newton beat St. Anthony before his Toppers took the field, the focus will be doing what makes Hillsboro successful, rather than stopping what has made Newton successful.
“When we win 50/50 balls and keep other people back, that’s when we are our best.” said Burke. “When we step back and let other people do what they want to do, that’s never good for us. If we’re the aggressors, I feel like we can do something.”
Whether that something is Hillsboro’s fourth regional title (and first since 2015) will be decided in Altamont at 4 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 15.
October 12 at Altamont
Altamont Regional Semifinal
Hillsboro 1 0 0 1 2
Altamont 1 0 0 0 1
Scoring: Hillsboro - Matt Page 1, Logan Murray 1; Altamont - Noah Klimpel 1. Goalkeepers: Hillsboro - Mitchell Lowe; Altamont - Connor Klitzing.
Records: Hillsboro (13-6-2); Altamont (10-9-2).