The Hillsboro High School boys soccer team traveled to Springfield Saturday morning, March 20, to face off against the Springfield High School Senators, a two “A” school more used to competing in the powerhouse Central State 8 than against the South Central Conference.
With an enrollment of nearly 1,500 and a team that was literally three times what the Toppers traveled north with, it would be easy to expect total domination and a totally lopsided score. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as heart and determination overcame size, nearly allowing the Toppers to pull off the seemingly impossible.
After 65 minutes of standing on their heads and playing absolutely incredible soccer, holding the score at 0-0, Springfield would score late in the second to come away with the 1-0 victory. If moral victories really are a thing, this was one of them.
The Toppers, undersized against the Senators in more ways than one, were forced to be on the defensive early as Springfield spread the field and worked the ball north and south and east and west. But the orange and black would keep their shape and spacing as well, keeping the Senators from creating many chances.
In fact, it would be Hillsboro who would nearly break through first as freshman Griffen Hughes found sophomore forward Will Christian up front with a terrific pass from deep. Christian was able to create a little space and was off to the races, but the speedy Springfield back line caught up and would knock him off the ball.
Hillsboro would keep up the attack as junior Ethan Lentz would send a free kick over the net just minutes later, putting the Sens on notice.
At the other end, the Topper back line was terrific, anchored by senior Frankie Passariello and junior Devin Speiser, with freshman Deklan Riggs and a combination of Hughes and junior Matt Page (who interchanged as a mid and back to keep flow). Between the pipes senior keeper Shaw Riggs was staunch as well, turning attack after attack away.
As halftime approached and the score was 0-0, the Toppers began to believe more and more in themselves that something very special could happen.
With 2:30 left in the half, something special almost happened as Christian got great position in front of the Springfield keeper as he tried to clear. The keeper would clear the ball right into Christian’s chest, however, and the ball would nearly ricochet into the goal before a quick thinking Senator defender recovered and sent the ball up the other way. Neither team would generate much after the near miss and the score would stay 0-0 at the break.
When play resumed in the second half, the Sens came out hunting and tried to play a more physical game against the Toppers, but Hillsboro was right there to bite back and each side would trade runs in the first minutes of the frame.
Hillsboro would have their best chance to score at the ten minute mark of the half when a free kick from midfield was redirected off the head of Christian, forcing the Springfield keeper to scramble to make the save.
At the other end, Riggs was just as steady as he was peppered and made save after save, including a diving stop that fooled him on the initial kick.
With 21:17 left in the half, the Senators would finally break through as a broken play on the right side of the Hillsboro defensive end enable SHS to sneak one past the sliding Riggs, giving them the 1-0 lead.
Hillsboro would have chances late but would never be able to muster a tally. Likewise, Springfield would have chances, but Riggs and the back line were there every time and held to the 1-0 margin.
“Super, super proud of this team,” Hillsboro coach Jason Burke said. “It was incredible the heart they showed and it’s not like they (Springfield) overlooked us. We just gave them a heck of a challenge and proved what we are capable of. Coach (Matt) Lentz and I just are blown away by the level of effort these guys put forth and we learned a lot about our team today and they learned a lot about themselves.”
The Toppers return to action this afternoon, March 22, as they host the Williamsville Bullets at 4:30 pm at the Sports Complex.
March 20 at Springfield
Springfield 1, Hillsboro 0
Record: Hillsboro (3-2-1).