Hopewell Focused For Conference Tournament
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
May 22, 2014, 09:40
Tristan Irvin scored a set-piece goal from 35 yards out into the upper 90 for the Blue Devils' first goal.
HOPEWELL — Before the season began, Hopewell's senior co-captains Tyler Jordan and Zack Hipps said the Blue Devils' goal this season would be a Conference 26 Championship. They envisioned a senior-laden team, one that has grown together through four years, to be one of the stronger units in the region while stringing together multiple winning-streaks.
However, injuries and illnesses have decimated Hopewell throughout the season, leaving head coach Brad Dalton scrambling to the junior varsity team to find healthy players and once on the pitch, mixing and matching to find a competitive starting XI. Unfortunately, it was the same scenario for a Senior Night match against Dinwiddie.
The Blue Devils squad had just 13 players who could give actual minutes in the game with the majority of the starters facing some type of ailment ranging from ankle problems, strep-throat and all the way to knee issues. Yet, for all the excuses already built in, it was Hopewell who dominated the run of play fro the first five minutes of the match.
The Blue Devils attacked the left-flank with ruthlessness, playing an ideal three-man game between Reuben Quezada, Tristan Irvin and Jordan, resulting in an early corner kick and dangerous chances which could not be finished off. And it was off a Hopewell chance in the final third that Dinwiddie jumped out on a quick counter with to tally a 6' minute strike through the middle of the pitch for the early lead.
While the game would become more physical as the game went on — numerous cautions were handed out as players were pummeled to the turf — the Generals took control. Their quick counters spread the Hopewell defense in a six-goal performance before the Blue Devils surged late after Dalton received a red-card in the 57' minute.
Hopewell's two second half tallies — one on an Irvin set-piece from 35 yards out into the upper 90 and another on a Jordan penalty-kick — kept the Blue Devils from being shutout in a 6-2 defeat. But after the game, Dalton was pleased with his team's effort through all the obstacles put in their path.
"The first three goals were just us figuring who has to go where and Kolbe (Granderson) hasn't been in goal for a month," Dalton explained on the field after the game. "We finished the game with 11 players, so we are dealing with even more injuries ... We did what we did all year: we tied our shorts up tighter, played hard, but our thing is still to try to get ready for next week."
Tyler Jordan scored on a penalty-kick late in the second half during Hopewell's offensive surge.
That's because Tuesday represents the start of the Conference 26 Tournament — Hopewell is 2-0 against Petersburg who the only conference opponent they have faced this season — and could be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed once the tournament begins. But no matter what seed they are, Hopewell seems to be in good position for a chance at contending for a title and fulfill the goal they had prior to the season.
Starting midfielder Nathanial Satterfield who has been sitting out due to a concussion is likely to be back next week along with sophomore forward Quaron Fitzgerald who has brought an added speed dimension to the Blue Devils' attack. But even more promising for the Blue Devils was the way the team responded positively to what turned out to be a chaotic scene against Dinwidde.
Numerous times throughout the game, coaches from either side were beside themselves with the blatant missed calls by the referees on chippy play. On one such instance, Irvin, defending a set-piece in the box, was brought down from behind and immediately fell to the turf. No whistle was blown and Dalton defended his team.
The referee gave Dalton a red-card on a night that cautions were handed out more than chocolate is at Hershey Park with Jordan and Granderson receiving cards for the Blue Devils. Yet, instead of collapsing after the call, the team rebounded and surged for the final 20 minutes of the game, pushing up the pitch with relentlessness.
Layne's runs into the box became more dangerous, setting up chances for teammates, before blasting one into the side-netting himself on an opportunity inside the box. Hopewell would earn back-to-back corners in the 74' minute, earning a handball off a dangerous delivery and Jordan would calmly score on the penalty-kick, giving the Blue Devils some momentum and confidence heading into next week.
"It's kind of like the basketball play where the coach tries to get the team fired up and gets the technical," Dalton said while revealing it wasn't his intent. "I think they responded to it that way in a sense that no matter what the calls are, what's being said, we try to stay focused."
Scott Layne moved into his natural position of midfield with fantastic results, becoming the driving force for numerous attacking runs.
That focus is what makes Hopewell both a resilient team and one that will be a tough out in the conference tournament next week. When healthy, the Blue Devils have shown they can play with anyone on the field because of the way they can generate an attack from the back and push forward with speed and precision-passing from the midfield with Hipps playing the part of conductor.
If they can keep the same focus and play with the same intensity that burned within them after calls didn't go their way, a deep run into the Conference 26 Tournament could be on the horizon, making up for an injury-plagued season with the best of results.