A day after dropping a 3-1 decision to a talented Beardstown group, a game the Toppers led 1-0 at the half, the Hillsboro High School boys soccer team traveled to Pana on Tuesday afternoon, April 13, to face off against the Panthers with serious implications hanging in the balance.
A win resulted in a share of the South Central Conference title, with a share already awarded to Carlinville and Gillespie. A loss meant those two teams would get a date on a banner in their gyms and the Toppers would get a “what could’ve been” moment.
Fortunately for the orange and black, “what could’ve been” would have to wait for another day and “what is” would be the result as an Ethan Lentz penalty kick with 13:24 left in the tilt would find the back of the net and firmly cement another conference title for the Toppers, going back-to-back in that category.
Hillsboro would be in for a fight from the outset as Pana threw a familiar set up against the visitors, isolating key Topper players just as they did in the two teams’ first meeting this year, an early season contest that resulted in a 0-0 tie called after 100 minutes of soccer and officials deeming conditions too dark to go into penalty kicks.
With this set hampering the Toppers’ ability to move the ball as they like, it would take a bit of time to adjust offensively. When they did, their first strike of the game would come at the 6:30 mark of the first when junior mid Kennon Beecher worked the ball up the right side and found sophomore forward Adison Pollard up front. Pollard would get his shot on but shoot just wide.
Junior Ayden Brewer was in the vicinity for the put back, but he would be surprised by the bouncing ball and was unable to get a touch on the redirect and the ball would trickle out of play.
Pollard would send one over the net just one minute later and Hillsboro would add two more strikes on the next two ensuing possessions, but never could break through.
At the halfway point of the first, the Toppers would get another good look on frame as Beecher was fouled just outside the Pana 18-yard box and Lentz would come up to take the free kick. Lentz would float a perfect looper to sophomore Will Christian and Christian would get his head on the ball, but would put it up and over the crossbar, ending the attack.
Late in the half, Hillsboro would have another chance as a ball out of bounds deep in the Panther zone resulted in a throw in for the Toppers. Junior Gavin Matoush would take the throw and let loose with a perfect one that ended up right onto the waiting head of Brewer, who redirected the ball perfectly on net, but Pana keeper Ryan Karbach was there to collect the shot and send it up the other way.
When play resumed in the second half, Karbach would continue to give the Toppers fits, first with a point blank diving save off a shot from Christian and then fending off a breakaway attempt, once again by Christian.
At the halfway mark of the second, Matoush would nearly score on a flurry of kicks in front of the Pana net, but still nothing until a foul deep in the Panther penalty area with 13:24 left resulted in a Hillsboro kick and Lentz was there to nail it home for the 1-0 lead.
From there, Topper goalkeeper Shaw Riggs and the Hillsboro back liners held tight and fast, turning away a ramped-up Pana attack. They were able to keep the Panthers honest, sealing the win and a share of the title.
The Toppers finish out their season this afternoon, April 15, at home with a non-conference match against the Greenville Comets. Varsity action begins at 4:30 with JV to follow.
April 12 at Hillsboro
Beardstown 3, Hillsboro 1
Hillsboro Scoring: Ethan Lentz 1.
April 13 at Pana
Hillsboro 1, Pana 0
Hillsboro Scoring: Ethan Lentz 1.
Records: Hillsboro (10-4-1, 6-1).