BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — GREENTOWN — Eastern’s shots whistled high, wide, or straight to Taylor goalie Hunter Stephens for 20 minutes of largely one-way traffic Tuesday night in the teams’ Mid-Indiana Conference boys soccer game.
Then, midway through the first half, Eastern finally found its accuracy and turned on the gas, surging to an 8-1 victory.
“They played with a lot of intensity and they played hard,” Eastern coach John VanMatre said.
Eastern got a hat trick from Darren Bellow, two strikes each from Cole Walker and Ben Cole, and a goal from Nate Everett in moving to 6-2 overall and 2-0 in the MIC. Taylor fell to 1-8, 0-4 in the MIC.
“You always worry that they’re going to play to the level of their competition, and they didn’t. I was proud of that,” VanMatre said.
The Comets finally broke through in the 20th minute when a good pass from Dillon Ryan put Lucas VanMatre through on goal on the left side. His shot was saved by Stephens, but Bellow was fastest to the rebound and scored from deep in the 18-yard box. A minute later, Walker dribbled across the Taylor defense and scored to the far post to double the margin.
Bellow sliced through the Titan defense and scored again in the 26th minute to give the Comets a firm grip on the game. Taylor pulled a goal back in the final minute of the half when Allen Bottomley ripped up the right side and took aim from a tight angle. Eastern goalie Delon Tuggle got fingertips to it but couldn’t keep it out. The halftime score was 3-1 Comets.
Eastern netted five more in the second half in an 18-minute flurry against a dispirited Taylor squad that has only two upperclassmen on the roster.
“We’ve just got to stand up more,” Taylor coach Mike Shane said of his squad’s one-on-one defending. “We don’t pressure the ball the way we should. We’re still learning.
“[Eastern had] way too much time and space. [The Titans] just lack the confidence and the know-how to step up and what to do.”
Taylor goalie Stephens had 17 saves and his backup Fred Kim had another three. But many more Eastern shots weren’t on frame, something John VanMatre hopes to see fixed.
“There’s the things that are sticking out to me that we need to work on and that’s what sticks in my mind is finishing better,” he said. “We had so many opportunities and it’s just frustrating not to see those go in because Thursday night we play Northwestern and you’re not going to get those opportunities, and we’ve got to be a lot more efficient with putting the ball in the back of the net. We can’t wait for 12 chances before we put one in the back of the net.”
Bright spots for John VanMatre included getting another MIC win prior to key dates with Northwestern and Western, and seeing freshman Cole reward himself with a couple goals after a busy night speeding up and down the right wing.
“I was just proud of how the boys played overall because we’re just progressing as a team.”
Tuggle had three saves for Eastern. Backup goalie Ben Evenson had one.