Indian River soccer downs Sussex Central 8-1
Sussex Central kept things close in the first half as they hosted Indian River’s boys’ varsity soccer team this past Tuesday evening, trailing by a slight 3-1 margin. But Indian River’s depth and talent shined through the second half as they held the Golden Knights from getting any more goals and knocked in five more of their own, for an 8-1 win.
Sam Izzo scored two first-half goals for the Indians, and Luis Cruz picked up two of his own in the second half. Collier Donald, Carlos Perez and Danny Garza each picked up a second-half goal, as well. Indian River’s second goal of the night, though, came from Josh Mercer, the senior star who finally returned to the pitch after a knee injury kept him on the bench for nearly a month.
“I was so ready to come back,” said Mercer, who went down against Cape Henlopen after a collision with an opponent. “Fortunately, the guys have been killing it out there. They handled it really well, and the team is really playing well together. As the season goes on, we are definitely playing together as a team and looking better. You can tell we want the conference title.”
Indian River head coach Steve Kilby was proud of his team’s win on Tuesday, although it was the expense of Sussex Central, coached by Kilby’s son, Patrick.
“Central is a very dangerous team,” Steve Kilby said. Brothers Kevin and William Alvarado and others, he said, “definitely put the pressure on us early. By the second half, we reshaped our midfield and were winning the ball more. From there, we did a nice job playing the flanks or strikers.”
Kilby said he was pleased to have Mercer back in the lineup, but he also hailed the team’s performance through the second half of the season’s schedule.
“Josh is probably at 90 percent,” Kilby noted, “but even at that, he still has pace and vision. The biggest thing I saw from him,” he added of Tuesday’s game, “was that he was winning tackles and going hard on the ball. That shows his comfort level. His speed and agility will eventually come back.
“I don’t know if we thought we were good enough to win conference at beginning of year,” he continued, “but our guys have really taken well to the system and what we’re trying to do here. They have gotten progressively better through the year and, as I always tell them, each season is a marathon, not a sprint.”
After being shut out 3-0 by Salesianum to kick the season off, an emotional tie game with Sussex Tech and a discouraging loss to Cape after Mercer’s injury, the Indians have done everything right, picking up their seventh straight win on the year this week. The Indians, now sitting at 10-2-1, are poised to capture the Henlopen Southern Division title for the second year in a row.
They were set to face a winless Laurel team this Thursday, Oct. 27, (after Coastal Point press time), before heading to Caravel Academy for the final game of the regular season next Wednesday, Nov. 2.
“Capturing the Henlopen South two years in a row is amazing,” said Mercer. “To be able to finish up your senior year and say you did something like that is awesome. We’ve got a great team of leaders and some amazing underclassmen who have really stepped up this season. We definitely want to win out and finish strong.”
One of those underclassmen doing his part for the team is Luis Cruz, who took on a role at striker and midfield, alongside Mercer, at the season’s start.
“It’s great to have Josh back,” said Cruz. “I definitely missed him up top. It wasn’t the same. He’s a great player, and now that he’s back, we’re an even stronger team.”
A win over Laurel would put the Indians at a perfect record in the Henlopen South, and the team understands that a lot of bragging rights depend on this matchup.
“Laurel can play,” said Cruz. “We can’t get cocky. We need to play the same. We try to start our games at 100 percent. It doesn’t matter who it is. We are all getting used to each other and playing how we need to.”
The key to the Indians’ success this year is their youth and their depth.
“We’ve seen a lot from the younger guys,” said Kilby. “We can go 15 guys deep, and I think we’ve proven that by now. We have guys like Luis Cruz, who has really stepped into the role we were looking for. Guys like Alberto Pacheco go unnoticed most of the time, but we can put him on the flank or in a holding mid role.
“[Sophomore] Greg Ray has given us some huge minutes and goals this season. Danny Garza is a very skilled freshman, and he’s known to some of the guys as ‘Lil’ Messi.’ [Elbridge] Murray is another one we can get out on the flanks when we need. He plays simple soccer, and when you play like that, you’re not going to make many mistakes. We’re very fortunate to have the team we have this year.”
The Indians went 1-1 against Caravel in the regular season in each of the last two years, but it was that same Caravel team that bested Indian River in the playoffs, both times, in the semifinal round.
“We know Caravel’s a good team,” said Kilby, “but they are facing some troubles this season. They lost a lot of seniors, and we look to make a deep run in the state tournament. Our trick, though, is to focus all our attention on the next game on our schedule, and, right now, that’s Laurel. Every practice, we’re doing more coaching and more teaching. We want to make sure that we are making the right decisions for the situations we’re in.”