Redhawks shut down Vikings in Best of the West opener
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By Steve Nemeth
When it comes to explaining Naperville Central’s third consecutive 3-0 triumph - the most recent being Tuesday’s opening round win over Fremd, the defending Best of the West Tournament champion - Redhawk coach Troy Adams admitted he borrowed from legendary basketball coach John Wooden.
“We talked about Wooden’s expression ‘If we don’t work, nothing does,’ and I reminded them that what separates great teams from good teams is how hard they work,” Adams noted. “I think the big difference tonight was our work rate.”
Statistically translated, Naperville Central compiled a commanding 24-6 advantage for overall attempts and an 11-2 edge in shots actually on goal.
And from a defensive standpoint, the Redhawks’ third straight shutout was further highlighted by the fact Fremd wasn’t able to put one single shot actually on frame for the final 40 minutes.
That certainly meant that goalie Mike Pavliga had a relatively easy night, but the junior keeper gave credit where it was due.
“A lot of goalkeeping is communicating, but that’s easy with two senior captains (Mike Plant and Sean Stevens) in front of me, actually we’re really deep on defense and that’s another plus,” Pavliga said. “Our defenders are really good at limiting opportunities, but if something does get past them, then it’s my job to stop it.”
While Fremd coach Steve Keller credited the Redhawks for an impressive performance, he had to admit his squad’s play left a lot to be desired as the Vikings dipped to 2-1-0.
“It was certainly a disappointing effort on our part,” Keller stated. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance because we just weren’t ready to play. Mentally we were not sharp and give Central credit, they outhustled and out-smarted us. We didn’t create anything on offense and on defense we lacked communication.”
Plus the Vikings were a little unlucky. Even though Naperville Central’s Plant missed his intended targets, his 35-yard free kick from the left side with 11:21 remaining before intermission got the hosts on the scoreboard. A Fremd defender’s effort had the unintended result of being a flick that led to the kind of bounce that eluded goalie Steve Soltykiewicz.
“It was kind of like a shank in golf that winds up on the green next to the cup,” Central’s Adams admitted.
Just after the restart, Fremd was hoping for a quick counter and had a solid opportunity but Jeremy Kosacz’s shot sailed over the crossbar and realistically became the Vikings’ only near goal.
With Naperville Central continuing to push the attack, scoring leader Pat Flynn was working in along the end line and chipped a cross that became his first assist to go with three goals thanks to Greg Burdett. The senior forward headed home a nine-yarder from the left side with 28:09 still to be played.
“Coach always says to aim toward the middle so even if you’re off, your teammates will have a chance on the backside. In this case it went nicely inside the far post,” Burdett said. “Usually you can tell if you head it well because at that instant you feel an adrenaline rush. I definitely felt the rush on that one.”
The Redhawk coaching staff and bench had a rush of their own 13 minutes later when reserve Blake Beehler dribbled into open space at the top of the box and threaded a stellar through ball to teammate Mike West who was rushing toward the goal.
The junior chalked up his second goal of the season by knocking it past Fremd’s second-half keeper, Colton Caesius.
That play typified one of Pavliga’s comments when he and Burdett were asked after the match to explain their squad’s success.
“Chemistry is something we’ve really worked on,” Pavliga said. “We hang out as a group and do everything together, so we’ve gotten to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Which prompted Burdett to echo his coach’s philosophy on hard work.
“We put in a lot of extra time on our own during the summer in order to help each other and it’s paying off,” Burdett added.
The Best of the West, co-hosted by Naperville Central and North, continues with group play on Thursday and Saturday morning to determine the top two teams to square off for first place.
The Redhawks put their 3-0 record on the line Thursday against Carl Sandburg, a 4-0 winner over Waubonsie Valley, which will be the Redhawks’ Saturday morning foe.
Fremd returns to action to face Waubonsie on Thursday before meeting up with Sandburg.