An opening-minute goal from Chase Hermanson, followed by a sublime strike from the Conant senior condemned Huntley to its third defeat in tournament play Thursday night at the Norm Hillner Classic at Lake Park's West Campus.
Hermanson scored the game-winner before the clock struck one minute, then fired in his second of the match, and seventh of the season at 8 minutes as the Red Raiders (0-4-1) endured a tough start on the way to a 5-0 loss.
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"You saw what having two experienced starters out of our lineup due to injuries (Angel Sanchez, Kyle Carberry) meant, and Conant obviously took advantage of our shortcomings back there," said Huntley coach Kris Grabner, whose club will finish up tourney play with a match against St. Francis on Saturday. "Until we can get ourselves 100 percent healthy, we're going to continue to struggle with our results."
The Cougars (3-0-2) kept the pressure on their opponents as Brian Rodela fired a left-footer past keeper Michael Parks from 20 yards at 20 minutes to make it 3-0. It went to 4-0 when Cezar Alfaro bent his attempt high and into the far right corner from a tough angle.
"I don't know exactly how to explain the turnaround in our attack this year, except that all of us seniors don't want to go through a mediocre year like last year and the younger guys don't want to have any part of it either," said Hermanson, who has already exceded his 2013 goal-total of 7.
"I feel like this team is capable of producing a the kind of high-powered attack you saw at times tonight," said Conant coach Jason Franco, "but we know there's still a lot of work ahead of us if we expect to compete in the MSL at a high level."
Despite the 4-goal deficit, the Red Raiders refused to give in.
Mario Carlo Vergara, who showed tremendous pace on the outside for most of the night, had a go at keeper Matt Mussman between the Rodela and Alfaro strikes. Before the break, Vergara teammed with Alessandro Vergara, Travis Walsh and Michael Zembrzuski on several forays into the Conant end, only to be stopped before getting anything on frame, thanks to Oscar Quintero and his mates, who helped Mussman record the shutout.
"Oscar is a terrific story. He went from playing on the freshman B team to our starting center-back, and so far he looks composed and comfortable back there for us," said Franco.
Rodela finished up the scoring in the 45th minute for the Cougars, who next face the host Lancers on Saturday morning in the tournament finale.
"I thought Huntley maybe had a little bit of the run of play early on, but we put those two in on them very quickly, then another to kind of turn things in our favor," said Franco.