SOCCER: Panthers win second straight Rivals Cup
MANTENO — The Rivals Cup trophy might need to start paying rent to Manteno’s trophy case.
After facing a 1-0 halftime deficit in the tournament’s championship game on Saturday, the Panthers pushed home a pair of second-half goals, including Alec Miller’s free kick with eight minutes remaining, to defeat Oak Forest 2-1.
The win gave the Panthers back-to-back Rivals Cup championships and their third in four years.
“This was the best day imaginable,” Manteno center back A.J. Gilliam, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, said. “The Rivals Cup and winning it again was one of our main goals this season, and it’s just good that we achieved that.”
Gilliam was the one who started the scoring for the Panthers on Saturday. He converted a penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half that knotted the match at one.
Panthers head coach Justin Emerson said it was nothing new to see his defender score on offense, as Gilliam has made a habit of putting the ball past the keeper this season.
“A.J. has 14 goals this season, and he’s a center back,” Emerson said. “He just finds a way to put his influence on the game in any way possible.”
Miller, who is not traditionally a primary source of scoring, but assisting, found a meaty opportunity with a free kick just outside the box and slightly to the left. The Panthers’ midfielder was able to bend it in the net for the eventual game-winner.
“Once again, we go as Alec goes,” Emerson said. “When he’s dictating plays is when we’re successful, and he capped off a wonderful tournament with that free kick.”
And while the Panthers’ offensive ability was on display in the second half on Saturday, Emerson said it was defense that won the tournament, holding the Bengals to just four shots on goal.
“This game was a defensive battle,” Emerson said. “We consider ourselves a defensive team and Oak Forest has their strength back there as well. Ours just won out today.”
The Panthers’ record stands at 14-2 after the five-win week. They’re in action today at Central.
Herscher takes third
After the Tigers fell in Saturday morning’s semifinal to Oak Forest 3-2, they rebounded in the afternoon to hold off Chicago Christian with a 2-0 victory in the third-place match.
“We ran into a tough Oak Forest team, and a couple of the goals they scored were amazing,” Tigers coach Alan High said. “But we bounced back, the kids played hard, everybody got in, and it was just a good win.”
It took about 15 minutes for the Tigers to get on the board in the third-place match, when Preston Fillmore got a hold of Jake Allen’s rebound and tickled the twine for a 1-0 Tigers’ lead.
High said his team’s ability to be so aggressive and find themselves at the net early and often was indicative of the hard work his team has given to conditioning.
“Our team worked their tails off this offseason to make sure they’re in the best shape they could be,” High said. “All 22 (players) showed how hard they can work and that they can go 100 miles per hour.”
The Tigers, who added an insurance goal from Evan Brown in the second half, have won eight of their last nine matches and are 14-4 on the season.
They’ll look to make it nine of their last 10 when they host Hoopeston today.