Grayslake Central, healthier and suddenly playing its best soccer of the season, posted its fifth straight victory with a 2-1 decision over visiting Wauconda in a nonconference match on Wednesday night in Grayslake.
The Rams' Philip Longenecker missed the first six games of the season as he mended a broken hip suffered in club play a few months back. He only recently returned to the Rams midfield to resume his play-making role.
A couple other seniors -- Ryan Fontana and Kyle Martinez -- have also been out of the lineup. Fontana broke his nose at the start of the season, while Martinez remains out with a broken foot with an expected return in a couple weeks.
In spite of it all, Grayslake Central (8-7) has put together a five-game stretch that includes three OT victories in Fox Valley Fox Division play.
"I keep telling the guys about the mental strength," said Longenecker, a four-year varsity stalwart. "We have made silly mistakes and broken down as a team. But we've come together, working back and battling through and getting after the goals we have.
"Soccer is a mental game. I can't say that we're the most technical team. Tactically, we're well-coached and very organized. That's one of our advantages."
Longenecker scored the opening goal Wednesday night on a penalty kick in the 18th minute after Wauconda (6-8-3) was called for a handball in the penalty area.
"We have heart and we battle together," Longenecker said, "We've changed our lineup around and put a lot of technical guys in the back. We're doing a good job building up from the back so we can get possession up the field. We're getting chances."
The Rams' other tally was from freshman Paul Kulis with a header to finish a throw-in from Alex Stickler in the 67th minute.
"We're jelling right now and playing some decent soccer," Grayslake Central coach Mike McCaulou said. "It's the same problem -- finishing. Once we get more clinical in front of the goal, we'll be tough to beat.
"This group needs to be more focused throughout 80 minutes, and on preparation before the game. Experience does help, along with mental toughness. If you have success, then you build confidence. Beyond confidence, you're more mentally tuned into the game. It's a cycle, and right now we've got confidence."
Wauconda scored in the 72nd minute as freshman Teddy Kolarov hit a one-timer with an assist from Brandon Morales.
For the Bulldogs, scoring remains an issue.
"The good part was we created chances -- the bad part was finishing," said Wauconda coach Patrick Heckmann. "We had some very good hustle. We just can't seem to find our breaks. We expect to see them again (in the Class 2A playoffs), since we're in the same regional."