EFFINGHAM — Down 2-0 late in the second half of Thursday’s soccer game at Effingham High School, the Olney Tigers launched a furious comeback attempt, sending all they had at Effingham goalkeeper Dalton Steele.
Playing behind a makeshift unit of defenders after the Hearts had replaced their starters, Steele faced a barrage of shots from the Tigers, deflecting every single one and maintaining Effingham’s 2-0 shutout.
After a diving save on a laser from an Olney forward with a little more than one minute left, Steele rose from the ground and triumphantly pounded his chest, sensing that the worst was over, the victory sealed.
“Dalton came to play tonight,” Effingham coach Aaron Witges said of his keeper’s effort.
Effingham jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals by Jason Pike and Ivan Carillo.
Pike scored with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left in the first half off a rebound, driving the ball past Olney goalkeeper Seth Umfleet into the bottom right corner .
Carillo added an insurance goal with 21:01 remaining in the second half, giving the Hearts a 2-0 cushion. Austin Wenthe launched a pass across the face of the goalkeeper, landing at Carillo’s feet. Before Umfleet could react, Carillo sent a rocket to the back of the net.
“Ivan’s a great kid,” Witges said. “He works his butt off.”
Witges added that the Hearts have been making a lot of solid plays of late.
“We’re obviously getting a lot of shots,” he said. “We have kids that are finishing them right now.”
Getting strong senior leadership from players like Carillo has sparked the Hearts’ massive turnaround from 2011, Witges noted.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without this group of seniors,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids overall.”
After defeating Olney 3-1 earlier in the season, Witges acknowledged that familiarity with the opponent played a big role in the Hearts’ second victory over the Tigers.
“We don’t get to play many teams more than once in a year, so we knew what they had,” he said. “I thought tonight that we controlled the ball a lot better.”
Effingham improved to 11-2-1 with the victory.
When the regionals kick off on Oct. 5, the Hearts will be the No. 3 seed in their region, behind No. 1 seed Mattoon and No. 2 Mt. Zion.