Indian River slips past Sussex Central

In a bit of a surprise, Indian River’s varsity soccer team didn’t score five-plus goals in a blowout victory over Sussex Central on Sept. 25.

soccer 9.28: Indian River and Victor Cuenca outlast Sussex Central 2-1 to improve their record to 5-0-1 on Sept. 25.Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT
Indian River and Victor Cuenca outlast Sussex Central 2-1 to improve their record to 5-0-1 on Sept. 25.

Instead, an injury-riddled Sussex Central team knuckled up, so to speak, and tied the game at one apiece — which happened to be the only goal allowed by Indian River through six games this season — and they nearly scored again with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, to send the game into overtime.

“We came out and played well,” Golden Knights head coach Kevin Cash said. “We never backed down. At times we took the attack to them, and at times they took it to us.”

Unfortunately for Sussex Central, their starting keeper, Kirby Mills, left the game with an injury in the 70th minute and reserve D.J. Hickman was handed the difficult task of coming in cold and holding an anxious Indian River offense at bay.

But, from there, it didn’t take long for Indian River to take advantage of the situation.

Indian River’s Chris Conover scored the go-ahead goal in the 73rd minute on a perfectly placed ball by Zach Izzo, on a direct kick, and the team was then able to rely on their defense — particularly keeper Sean Lewis — to hold onto a 2-1 victory

“Sean Lewis, Kirby and Lucas (Dover) are the three best keepers in the conference, in my opinion,” Cash said. “And it’s tough to come of the bench and face a tough shot. Would Kirby have stopped it? I don’t know. But it was a tough low shot, and you have to give credit to the shooter.”

“It’s real hard,” Indians head coach Steve Kilby said. “D.J. is a solid keeper. I’ve known him through travel soccer, but it’s tough to come off the bench and to get into the flow of the game.”

Conover noted that he was just trying “to make the best of it” on the direct kick from Izzo and later said that he played it off of Cameron Travalini’s head.

And despite a packed-in defense, Indian River was still able to muster a whopping 28 shots compared to Sussex Central’s six. Of that total, Indian River failed to capitalize on a number of close shots. Peter Mais penetrated the Golden Knights’ defense repeatedly and was able to score the game’s first goal in the 31st minute, but he was unable to convert other opportunities.

“In the first two minutes, Peter Mais played a ball back to Aaron Ghert. But he was unable to touch it in,” Kilby said. “[Other than that] we had several chances.”

During halftime, Kilby told his team that the only way he felt Sussex Central would score was through a counterattack. Sure enough, Kilby was right.

In the 46th minute, Sussex Central’s Zeke Gebhart collected the centering pass from Ivan Vera Garcia and slipped the game-tying goal past Lewis in a one-on-one situation — one Lewis doesn’t lose often.

Kilby had stated earlier in the season, when his team was shutting out opponents left and right, that they go into every game with the aim of not allowing any goals. And though they didn’t achieve this goal against Sussex Central, they did earn the win. Now, all Kilby can do is encourage his players to move on and to continue to play well.

“Defensively, they were disheartened,” he said. “This was the first goal [allowed] in six games, but from here they have to start over.”

Conover offered his own suggestion: “We need to pick up our intensity and go into every game like it’s our last.”

With the team at 5-0-1, Indian River’s next four opponents were Sussex Tech (Sept. 26, after Coastal Point press time), Caesar Rodney (Oct. 2), Seaford (Oct. 4) and Newark (Oct. 6).