Key players out not helping chances
by Keith Stewart
Entering the Mattoon soccer tournament last Friday, Arthur/Lovington-Atwood/Hammond was hoping to have a better showing than last year's two ties and one loss, but such was not to be the case, as instead the Knights suffered two losses and a disappointing 2-2 tie with Salem to end their run.
The Knights began the tournament losing 1-0 to a tough Effingham team that had already defeated Mattoon twice this season.
"I really didn't realize Effingham was that good," admitted head coach Jeff Trower. "It was encouraging. I think our downfall in that game was, we only had nine shots on goal, which, if you don't have more than that, especially with our team, we aren't going to win the game."
Goalie Tanner Brewer had nine saves in the loss.
The Knights next faced the host Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m.
The Greenwave struck first nearly 10 minutes into the first half when freshman Nathan Ray's cross found senior Chase Harvey just outside the 18-yard line, who then put a shot on, scoring.
But then seven minutes later the Knights would get the equalizer.
The goal started with sophomore Alex Evans, who at right fullback, battled a Mattoon player to clear the ball up to Jakob Brewer. The sophomore midfielder dribbled up the field before providing a perfect through-ball around the Mattoon defense to Omar Martinez, who capitalized with a finesse shot over Greenwave keeper Will Hopkins, who had come out of his box in hopes of clearing the ball.
The goal came on the back of just one of few chances for ALAH, as Mattoon controlled possession for most of the half.
Such control gave Mattoon several more chances in the half, and led to another goal with just 4:26 left when Zach Lensink's ball into the box went loose but was eventually struck by a teammate for the 2-1 lead heading into the half.
"I realize that Mattoon may have been taking us lightly at first, but at the end of the half, to be just 1-2, that's still a game that you could win," said Trower.
If the first portion of the game left anyone thinking the same as Trower, the second half put such thoughts to rest when Mattoon came out and scored three more goals while keeping the Knights on their heels for most of the game's remainder.
After a Greenwave shot rebounded into the Knights' box and went uncleared, Lensink fought through several defenders for the goal.
The Knights would continue to struggle clearing the ball, and Mattoon would again capitalize with 13:52 left.
Then just over three minutes later, the Greenwave's Rayme Hamilton received a cross from Ashton Drake-Paul and scored, taking a 5-1 lead.
"I think maybe in the second half we just got tired and in this type of tournament, you're going to get tired…but some people didn't work up to their capability," said Trower.
Brewer recorded 13 saves on the game, providing an effort Trower certainly could not fault.
"Can't blame him because he has all these others in front of him, and he's the last one," added Trower. "There were several times when the ball just stayed down there too long and that's going to eventually go in."
Having suffered two losses in the tournament, ALAH hoped to rebound in their final game against Salem, who they had suffered a disappointing 2-2 tie to last year.
Little could anyone foresee an identical outcome, but the Wildcats would provide, despite going down 2-0 in the first half.
It didn't take the Knights long to get out ahead of Salem, just 48 seconds in fact, when Omar Martinez took the direct kick from 35 yards out. The shot took a wicked curve and was placed perfectly above the goal keeper for the score.
The Knights would maintain most of the possession in the half and score again after Salem was called for a penalty inside the box on Briana Morgan.
Javi Briseno went to the line for the penalty kick, and though his shot, left, was blocked, the sophomore charged the goal and rebounded with a fierce volley into the far left corner of the net with 2:50 remaining in the half.
"That was amazing, because he's not usually super quick, but he was in there on that," said Trower. "It was an impressive shot. I'm happy with that."
Knights goal keeper Tanner Brewer was taken out of the first half after he and a Salem player collided, but would return in the second.
The Knights continued their dominance for most of the latter half, earning several opportunities but never capitalizing.
Then then last four minutes happened.
With 3:20 remaining, Salem dribbled down the left side of the field before going in. As the shot was taken, a Knights defender came across the box, the ball deflecting just right and throwing Brewer off balance for the goal.
Fourty-four seconds later, senior Natalie Bicknell was given a questionable red card after her hand made contact with the ball that was struck by Salem. Having occurred in the box, Salem got a penalty kick, returning the favor from the first half penalty. Despite Brewer getting a hand on the ball, the shot was too strong to stop and the Wildcats tied the game at 2-2.
Salem's newfound energy didn't stop with the equalizer, as they crammed the ball down ALAH's throat in the final minutes, but to no avail. As the whistle blew, a dejected ALAH team walked off the field, suffering a 2-2 tie to Salem for the second year in a row.
Trower did not leave without expressing his displeasure with what he felt was lackluster calls from the field referees, especially in regards to Bicknell's red card.
"I voiced my displeasures and walked away. There's nothing you can do, but sometimes you feel like you have to say something to let them know you disagree," said Trower. "I was unhappy because there were so many handball calls, a lot for a soccer game and usually the ball bounces while you're running, but he was calling everything."
But the Knights' head coach didn't use the calls as an excuse for his team's overall lackluster performance in the tournament.
"That's tot the reason we lost though. We never should have been in that situation. I think when they got that PK, it sucked the life out of us. We never should have been there in the first place. We just kind of lost the heart to keep going, especially in the second half."
The Knights were without two of their key players during the tournament, including midfielder Matthew Robinson and forward Jovany Martinez.
"With not having someone like Jovany, with the confidence he brings to the game, it hurts," said Trower. "And not having Matthew there hurts us, because he has a lot of speed and is always willing to go out 100 percent. If he thinks he can get there he does."
The Knights travelled to play Altamont Monday and then hosted Mattoon's JV team for their last regular season game Thursday. Be sure to see this coming week's News Progress for the story on those games.