Boys soccer: Conant pulls out key MSL win over Hersey

It was an important day of soccer all around the MSL Tuesday afternoon with four games watched closely - each having a direct result in what clubs will advance into next week's MSL Soccer Cup.

The Conant-Hersey contest at Roland Goins Stadium in Arlington Heights was one of those games of interest. And in the end, it would be an own goal that would give the Cougars a much-needed victory to keep Jason Franco's club alive in the MSL West.

"We weathered a big second half storm out there today, defended a bunch of corners, free kicks, and a Hersey team that threw everything else to get the three points we need to stay in the race," said Franco, who would find out later division-leading Fremd would defeat Hoffman Estates, 3-1, to stay three points clear (24-21) of Conant.

"We knew coming into this game what was at stake, so all we could do was take care of our own business, and (hopefully) get a little help," said senior Frank Mari, whose club will finish out the regular season against Hoffman Estates, while Fremd hosts Schaumburg.

With Peter Cirbo, Carson Hagler, Kanau Takahashi and Mari at the controls, the Cougars' top flight scoring duo of Carson Belcher (13 goals) and Krystian Nizolek (8 goals) were buzzing in, and around the Huskies (8-5-0, 6-3-0) end for most of the first half-hour.

Despite the visitors enjoying most of the play, possession and pass completion percentage, the Huskies' back line, which were stretched to its limit, was able to keep the Cougars' high-powered attack from piercing the back of the net.

"Our back line played extremely well against a team that can attack, and with speed, and along with our guys in the midfield, I thought we did a very good job all throughout this game," said a proud Huskies coach Mike Rusniak.

It was only a bit of misfortune that saw the visitors head into the intermission with the lone goal of the first half after a ball sent into the box from Cirbo was redirected past Huskies keeper Adrian Smakowski, who had no chance to stop.

The home side would start the second half on its front foot, winning countless first and second balls to help keep the visitors in its own end more than it would have liked.

Sophomore Ray Reyes gave the Huskies their best chance to draw even when he roared up the right side to get end line before playing a wonderful ball to the back post only to see one of his teammates get to the post too late.

This opportunity in the 53rd minute was followed a series of corners and free kicks sent into the box. Cougars keeper Varun Mittal bravely went into the air to pull down one ball after another in his box filled with several orange shirts.

"Varun is athletic and feisty, and today you saw him come up huge for us when we needed him to," said Franco.

Mittal would save a wicked attempt from Danny Duray who was allowed to tee-up his effort from 25 yards. Later he survived a rough ride when he pulled down a long flip-throw from Nate Mabry.

His counterpart Smakowski saved the day for the home side with a pair of quality close-range saves on Nizolek.

"We created a lot of chances and should have put at least one (in). And that's the way this game goes. But I know the guys will come back strong next time out in yet another important game for us," said Rusniak.

The Huskies are chasing division-leading Elk Grove, who with its 2-0 victory over Wheeling are four points clear (22-18) of Rusniak's men.

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