WILMINGTON – After surrendering their first goal in three games and trailing for the first time all season, the Tower Hill boys soccer team got back to basics and started their defense of the Independent Conference title with a bang.
Second half goals from Matthew Wilkinson, Drew Manning and Malcolm Johnson made a tremendous effort in goal by junior goalkeeper Bo Anderson stand up, pushing the Hillers to 3-0 on the season with a 3-1 win over conference rival Sanford on Wednesday afternoon.
“Our seniors did a great job of talking first,” Hillers coach Chris Aitken said of the halftime speech. “Then I just reminded the guys to take a deep breath and do what we’re capable of doing. Our conference matches are always physical and we play each team twice, so we just had to breathe.”
“We told each other ‘We can’t go out like this,’” said Manning, a senior forward who scored the winner on a header in the 30th minute. “This is a big opportunity for us to win the conference again, so we can’t come out flat in the second half.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair with each team getting their fair share of chances on net, but the Warriors converted first when Vincent Leo snuck a shot past Anderson with 7 1/2 minutes to go in the first half for his team’s lone goal.
It was all Tower Hill in the second half as Sanford, who got off nine shots in the first half, could only manage two the rest of the way. Anderson also did his part, stopping eight shots and keeping Sanford at bay long enough for the offense to get going.
“Bo is a competitor, a three-year starter who hates to lose,” Aitken espoused. “You saw it in his performance today with the amazing saves he made.”
While Anderson and the defense kept Sanford silent, the Hillers’ front line spoke loudly in the final 10 minutes of match time as Johnson fed Wilkinson for the equalizer at 29:38 and Manning took advantage of a wild scramble for the winner.
“I saw Ted Hughes take the shot and I knew Sanford’s momentum was carrying them too far away from me,” Manning explained. “So I saw a chance to fake out the goalie and re-directed the ball over his head.”
Johnson added some insurance, getting a feed from Wilkinson and booming the ball past goaltender Miles Petersen with just over eight minutes to go in match time, using his quickness to his advantage.
“It definitely helps, especially on the outside,” Johnson said of usually being the quickest player on the field. “It gives us a chance to get past their back line and attack the net.”
With one in hand over Sanford, the Hillers know that in order to win their conference again and compete in the Division II playoffs, having faith in each other will carry them a long way.
“We always try to stay positive, even when a team scores against us,” Manning said. “We don’t worry about past games or past stats, we just treat every game like it’s a team we’ve never played before.”