OTTAWA — Following Thursday night's soccer match against rival La Salle-Peru here at King Field, Ottawa coach Jeff Davis smiled and shook his head.
"I just wish we could have played the first half like we did the second," the Pirates skipper began. "The second 40 minutes we were really moving to the ball, getting first and second touches and playing aggressive. The opening half we were just too defensive."
The initial 40 minutes of play saw the visiting Cavaliers a step quicker to the ball than the hosts and find the back of the net twice. Ottawa, which had a couple of good chances in the first half, began the second half strong and eventually cut the deficit to one. However, L-P held off the Pirates off the scoreboard the rest of the way to take home a hard-fought 2-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference victory.
"I was very pleased with the effort how we played hard the entire match, but also give L-P credit because they came out hard from the start and put the ball in the net twice in the first half to put us behind," Davis said. "When a team gets an early lead like (L-P) did tonight, sometimes there is a tendency to sit back and get a little defensive minded. We really got up and pressed them after their second goal and had some real good looks and opportunities the rest of the way. We were able to get one back, but we just weren't able to get the second one that we needed."
La Salle-Peru (3-4-2, 1-2-1) scored the match's opening tally in the 10th minute. Cavaliers senior forward Jesus Cruz had his 10-yard blast from the right wing turned away by a tremendous diving effort by Pirates' keeper Kyle Haerle (two saves), but the rebound deflected right to the foot of classmate Alex Ellerbrock at the weak-side post and he was able to bang it home to put the visitors on top. The Cavs made it a 2-0 contest in the 32nd minute when, after a handball in the box was called on the hosts, sophomore Oscar Gonzalez blasted the penalty kick high left and past Haerle.
Ottawa (3-6, 1-2) was a different club from the opening kick of the second half and nearly broke the shutout just two minutes in, but senior Kekoa Gross had his header off a Giovanni Resendez corner kick sail just over the crossbar. The Pirates did, however, light the scoreboard a few moments later when senior Peter Walsh sent a fine throw-in from the right sideline into the middle of the box. The ball went untouched through a number of players until junior Julio Mendez sent a right-footed laser beam into the top right corner of the cage from 15-yards out.
The Pirates had two quality chances for the equalizer in the final 20 minutes, but Resendez's 18-yarder from out front just missed the left post and Aaron Dillon's header off a corner kick with four minutes to play cleared L-P keeper Jalen Depenbrock's hands, but then deflected off the crossbar and out of bounds.
For the match, Ottawa held a 17-10 advantage in overall shots, including 11-4 on target attempts.
"I saw a lot of good things from the team as a whole today, especially in the second half," said Davis. "Gio Resendez was really solid for us upfront, he was controlling the ball and creating opportunities for not only himself but his teammates. He had a couple of fantastic corner kicks that nearly led to the tying goal. Aaron Dillon played well all-around, whether it be using his height in the box on corners or long throw-ins, he was solid for us tonight.
"If we can put the kind of effort into entire matches like we did in the second half tonight, we'll be competitive every time out."