PEOTONE — With an undefeated Illinois Central Eight Conference title already in its possession, pride is all Herscher’s boys soccer team has left to play for this week as the season ends. The Tigers showed they have that by the bucket load when they blanked Peotone 2-0 on the road Tuesday.
“All we have to do is come out and keep going through the season,” Tigers senior center back Drew Schmidt said. “It’s bittersweet, but I’m happy for all the boys. ... This is just a great group of guys, and I love playing with them.”
The Tigers, who wrapped up a 7-0 ICE record and conference title last week, pitched their third straight shutout and won their ninth out of their past 10 matches to improve to 11-3 overall, and the Blue Devils fell to 4-6.
Tigers coach Alan High said the team traditionally sets its goals on postseason victories (they’ve won at least a regional plaque the past seven seasons), but priorities shifted solely to the conference crown without a postseason this year.
“The boys have prided themselves on when it comes to winning hardware,” High said. “We usually focus on the postseason with the conference preparing us for it since it’s such a tough conference, but with no postseason our main goal was to come out and win conference.
“We had a shootout with Peotone our first time around, a 1-0 game with Manteno, 3-2 at Coal City, so it wasn’t easy, but it never is in our conference, and that’s why so many of these teams have so much success.”
Herscher got both of its goals in the first half, when Trey Schwarzkopf got a pass from Logan Lunsford and pulled up from just outside the box and blasted one in, and the second when Bascom Jackson was fed a beautiful pass from Jaret Holt near the net 20 minutes later.
Once the Tigers built their lead, their fundamentally sound and athletic defense was able to keep the Blue Devils’ high-octane offense bottled up. Schmidt said the Tigers knew how Peotone liked to aggressively attack downfield and knew their defensive responsibilities to counter them.
“We knew the flick ball over the top would come, so I had to stay back for that,” Schmidt said. “And they like to run a lot of through balls to the lines, so we knew we had to make sure our marking backs ran with them.”
High credited the backline for not just its stellar defense but also the ability to set up the Tigers’ midfield with great position to control possession as they held off the Blue Devils’ comeback bid.
“We were a little shaky the first 10 minutes, but then we settled down, especially in the second half,” High said. “We owned the middle of the field in the second half because our defense was at ease and played the ball to our midfielders’ feet the whole second half.”
This Tigers team won’t have a chance at an eighth straight regional, but for High, potential hardware, as much as the team always clamors for it, isn’t totally first on the agenda anyway.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the young men they’ve become and the maturity they’ve shown ...” High said. “It’s been a privilege to watch them grow up and become the men that they are.”
It was the final time Peotone’s five seniors will take the home pitch. Head coach Justin Meyers wasn’t able to wish his seniors farewell in person, as he and his family welcomed a child, but Meyers did tell the Daily Journal on Monday night how grateful he is for a bunch he has grown right along with, as his first-ever coaching job came as the school’s JV coach when this group of seniors was freshmen.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to learn and grow with,” Meyers said. “They’re all highly-skilled players, but I truly admire their competitiveness and willingness to put everything on the line for the team.
“I’m grateful for the success that we were able to experience together, especially the sectional championship during their sophomore season,” he added. “I’m sad to see them go but excited for what the future holds in store for them.”
The Tigers are back in action with a home tilt against Beecher at 4:30 p.m. today. The Blue Devils wrap up their season at Streator at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.