Pushed to the limit
PORTAGE — Chesterton goalkeeper Charlie Eaton could feel the same nervousness and tension that many in the crowd at Portage High School were feeling in the second half against Michigan City on Tuesday evening.
“You have to want it, guys! Let’s pick it up,” Eaton exclaimed downfield to his teammates as they were stuck in a 0-0 duel with a scrappy pack of Wolves in the opening round of sectional play.
Just a couple of minutes later, Robbie Capehart flicked home a header inside of the 18-yard box off a ball in from Andrew VanNoort from about 25 yards away to give the Class 3A No. 1 Trojans the 1-0 lead; an advantage Chesterton (15-0-2) wouldn’t relinquish in ending the Wolves’ (5-7-2) upset chances and season.
“The effort’s always there with our guys and after that game, you just have to continue to keep piecing things together,” Wolves coach David Harris said after the loss. “It’s always tougher at Michigan City, but we figure it all out. They [Chesterton] beat us 3-0 in the sectional last year and it took them like, 68 minutes, and I felt like they wanted to come out and get a quick goal early, but it wasn’t as easy as they thought.”
Chesterton dominated possession, scoring chances, corners — 13 of them to be precise — and an endless amount of free kicks, most ranging from about 20-25 yards away from goal. The Trojans hit the left post just 45 seconds into the contest, but the Wolves held firm, despite the early pressure and throughout the first 60-plus minutes.
City’s steadiness defensively in keeping the game scoreless against the state’s top team in the coaches poll was thanks in large part to sophomore goalkeeper Evan Bush, who unofficially made nine saves on the night, and cleared his line about as well as any coach could ask for in a pressure-packed situation.
“Early in the season, I played him during the second half against Chesterton,” Harris said. “It was just like, ‘Well, let’s get your feet wet and see how it goes,’ because we lost our starter, but he was awesome. He’s got plenty of athleticism and I think his confidence is way high. They helped us out taking shots from 30 yards out early and you always want your goalie to get some touches. The corners were dangerous, but he did an excellent job.”
Bush kept almost everything out of the net, while the Wolves struggled to find chances to hit the Trojans on the counter-attack while sitting back in a defensive approach. The few chances City did get, they put its own pressure on Eaton in their attacking third.
With just mere seconds left in the first half, Wolves captain Riley Shreve struck a great ball on a free kick from about 30 yards out that forced Eaton to make a huge save to keep the contest scoreless.
After Capehart’s header just bounced past Bush, City was able to fend off a couple set pieces for the Trojans down the stretch, and in the final minutes, had a pair of chances to level the match.
Shreve struck another free kick from about 25 yards out into the box and Nate Stevenson almost deflected the ball in to make it 1-1. In the ensuing sequence following Stevenson’s deflection, the Wolves won a corner and almost found the game-tying goal, but Eaton did just enough to clear his line with a pursuing Nicholas Koepke inside the 6-yard box.
Chaos ensued in the final minute with some confusion about possession, which even led to a couple of yellow cards being handed out, but the scoreboard didn’t change.
“Apparently there was a foul on us before our last throw-in,” Harris said. “They handed out a yellow before that, which was kinda weird because they were letting a lot of physical stuff go. It didn’t change the game or anything. I think it was just a foul on us before we won the throw.”
With the defeat, the Wolves say goodbye to nine seniors: Erik Hultgren, Jacob Kiser, Jackson Attar, Nicholas Koepke, Riley Shreve, Henry Miller IV, Riley Buckler, Joshua Olson, and Bryant Najera Chavez.
“I would’ve preferred to win, but we had a few good chances to kinda scramble one in, but it just didn’t happen,” Harris said. “This is my fourth year here. I was the JV coach when I got here, so these guys [the seniors] are like, my guys. I’ve watched them grow into good players and they’ve just gotten so much better than when I first got here. They’re strong, tough and focused guys. They’re a good group.”