The Hillsboro High School boys soccer team wrapped up its regular season calendar Monday evening, Oct. 4, as the orange and black traveled to Breese to face off against the Mater Dei Knights.
In past years, the contest against the Knights would’ve been the start of a quick sprint to the final week of the season, but with conference teams both dropping out and folding, Monday’s tilt would be the last chance for the Toppers to fine tune what they have before beginning IHSA regional play next Tuesday at Altamont.
So with finishing strong on their minds, the boys traveled south and made some noise, scoring just 3:09 into the first half to lead early, only to allow two first half goals and drop the match 2-1.
In past years, the Mater Dei turf would be the only turf Hillsboro would have seen, but this year was much different as the Toppers have several games of experience on the artificial surface with two games at Carlinville and two games at North Mac. Throw in a game on turf at Taylorville and what was once a true home field advantage for the Knights was more of an equal plane as Hillsboro took to the flat pitch quickly.
With both teams fairly evenly matched, it was a back and forth battle from the whistle with the Toppers able to move the ball against the Knights and, in turn, Mater Dei able to be patient and possess against the visitors.
At just the 3:09 mark of the first, Hillsboro would get the advantage, though, as senior defender Devin Speiser controlled the ball deep in the Hillsboro zone and connected with fellow senior Gavin Matoush up front.
Matoush would get a foot on the ball and flick a perfect chip up to junior Will Christian who, using his speed, got in behind the Mater Dei right back and beat the Knight keeper to the low right side, putting the Toppers up 1-0 and stunning the sizeable home crowd who had assembled for senior night.
Hillsboro would keep up the attack and continue to get looks on the net as senior Ethan Lentz and sophomore Logan Murray would play off of each other and do a great job distributing the ball to their teammates, especially in the middle of the field. This complimentary play allowed more looks for Matoush, Christian, and junior midfielder Adison Pollard and kept the Toppers knocking on the door.
At the other end, the Hillsboro defense was just as steady as senior Matt Page, playing the role of stopper, played wide open and shut down several of the Mater Dei lead passes. Page, coupled with heads up play on the part of sophomores Chase Saathoff and Deklan Riggs, as well as Speiser and fellow senior Ayden Brewer allowed the Topper midfielders the ability to move the ball and drop back if needed.
Hillsboro would nearly add a second goal in the first 10 minutes of the first as Lentz was brought down near the 35 yard line and awarded a free kick. Lentz’s shot would be spot on but right into the hands of the Mater Dei keeper and was sent back up the other way.
Hillsboro’s keeper Mitchell Lowe was just as big at the other end defending two free kicks himself before the 18-minute mark of the half.
With 17:37 left in the half, the Knights would break through as the Toppers were whistled for foul just outside the 18 yard box and awarded a free kick, which they converted on a perfect ball into the upper 90, making it 1-1. They’d nearly add a second two minutes later on another free kick, but Lowe was there to make a spectacular leaping save and send it back up the other way.
Mater Dei wouldn’t go away, however, and they’d add a second off a corner kick with 7:55 left in the frame and they’d take the 2-1 lead into the break.
When play resumed in the second, Christian would nearly knot the score back up at 2-2 as the junior rocked a shot on net, but the attempt was gobbled up at the last second by a sprawling save just 1:30 into the new half.
The second half would be like that as both teams traded run after run throughout the remaining time. Likewise, the second half got chippy as both squads lit the wick on the physicality, forcing the officials to use their whistles multiple times. Neither side would get any closer on net, however, as time expired and the Knights came away with the narrow 2-1 victory.
The loss dropped the Toppers to a 12-6-2 overall regular season record. That record is a bit deceiving at first glance however, as four of those six losses came against much bigger schools including Bethalto Civic Memorial (as a result of a COVID related forfeit) and CS8 powerhouse Rochester.
“We’re definitely battle tested,” Hillsboro coach Jason Burke said. “We have played some big schools and some really good private schools in hopes of finding what we really have and as a way to get us ready for the postseason. I think we’re close but we’re still not playing to our potential. We learned a little bit tonight so going forward hopefully we can be ready in these big games. This was a real test tonight and I think we just about passed. We need to polish up a couple of things and hopefully we can get ready for regionals.”
The Toppers, by way of the third overall seed in the Carlinville Sectional, will travel to Altamont on Tuesday, Oct. 12, to face off against the winner of the Altamont/Robinson match. The winner of that contest will play the winner of the Newton and St. Anthony/Arthur match, with the regional championship being decided on Friday, Oct. 15.
October 4 at Breese
Hillsboro 1 0 - 1
Mater Dei 2 0 - 2
Scoring: Hillsboro - Will Christian (Gavin Matoush). Goalkeeper: Hillsboro - Mitchell Lowe.
Record: Hillsboro (12-6-2).
Altamont Grade School
Friday, October 8
Match 1 at 4 p.m.: (9) Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond at (7) Effingham St. Anthony
Match 2 at 4 p.m.: (10) Robinson at (6) Altamont
Tuesday, October 12
Match 3 at 4 p.m.: (2) Newton vs. Winner Match 1
Match 4 at 6 p.m.: (3) Hillsboro vs. Winner Match 2
Friday, October 15
Match 5 at 4 p.m.: Winner Match 3 vs. Winner Match 4