Irish top Urbana for third title in five seasons
By JOSH WESSLER
Peoria Journal Star
FRANKFORT – Score one for the unsung heroes. And make that four for the Notre Dame boys soccer team.
Seeking their third state title in five seasons, the Irish captured the program’s fourth Saturday with a 3-0 victory over Urbana in the Class 2A final at Lincoln-Way North.
Senior reserve Danny Aeschliman was the unlikely hero for the Irish, as his goal in the 15th minute of play ultimately proved to be the game-winner for ND.
But it was a collective effort by the unheralded Irish defense that may have been the key on this day. Facing a Tigers attack that had produced 90 goals coming in, the ND back unit was able to keep Urbana under wraps long enough for Grant Inskeep to seal the victory with back-to-back goals late in regulation.
“For me, it feels just as good as the first one,” said ND coach Mike Bare, who also guided the Irish to state titles in 2008 and 2010.
Coming off a third-place finish in 2011 and undefeated against in-state opponents this season, the senior-laden Irish (22-2-2) may have been expected to finish the job this time around.
However, an Urbana (21-3-0) side that was short on state experience but brimming with determination made meeting those expectations a bit more difficult than ND had hoped.
Playing in their fourth final in five seasons, the battle-tested Irish looked the part of the favorite in the early going and nearly took the lead a minute in only to be denied by the crossbar.
But it wasn’t until Aeschliman buried a loose ball in front of the goal at the 14:51 mark that the Irish had a clear advantage.
“I’ve always dreamed of something like that,” said Aeschliman, who may not have been on the field at that point had it not been for an injury to starter Jerry Ivie in the 10th minute of play.
“I got in, the ball came right to me and I finished it,” Aeschliman said. “It’s just an awesome feeling.”
Despite the Irish controlling the run of play, the Tigers remained dangerous on the attack and nearly pulled level on a few occasions.
Jonathan Lukusa, who came into the game with a team-high 21 goals, had a pair of chances late in the first half but could not find his way past ND goalkeeper Justin Buck.
“We got ourselves some decent opportunities to score, but they’re solid,” Urbana coach Randy Blackman said. “They cleared some of those off and we missed a few opportunities to tie it up.”
A tag-team effort by defenders Thomas Galbreath and Grayson McGraw proved effective at keeping the all-state senior out of goal.
“He was pretty fast,” McGraw said. “I just had to get a head start on him and had to predict where the ball was gonna go before it went there.
“And Thomas was always covering just in case. … We covered each other’s backs.”
Leading 1-0 at the half, the Irish spent most of the second searching for insurance. But the extra padding proved to be elusive for ND, thus keeping the door open for an Urbana equalizer.
“They’re one of those teams where you had to stay mentally in tune to the game for eighty minutes, because one slip up in the back and it’s gonna be a 1-1game,” Bare said. “Every time they had a counterattack they were dangerous, so it was very important for us to find the second and the third.”
And after a few near-misses on both ends of the field, the Irish finally got the insurance they were looking for and then some when Inskeep scored a pair of goals 46 seconds apart to seal the deal.
Drew Whalen helped set up Inskeep’s first goal, with his shot from the baseline spilling out into the path of the senior striker, who slid into the rebound for the score at 70:21. Alex Garcia then assisted Inskeep at71:07 for the match’s final goal, setting off a wild celebration by the cold but faithful Irish supporters.
“This was a group that went through a little adversity, that fell short last year and then really worked hard in the offseason,” Bare said. “So to see this senior class finish it off on a high note with a state championship, it’s really special.”