CONVERSE — A rivalry game that was expected to be tense beforehand tilted Eastern’s way almost instantly after kickoff Tuesday night. Lance VanMatre controlled a bouncing ball in the box and scored just 92 seconds into the Comets’ game against Northwestern.

From there, the action was end to end, and Northwestern was always chasing. The Comets kept the advantage all the way through, beating the Tigers 2-0 in the opening round of the Class 2A Oak Hill Boys Soccer Sectional.

The Comets’ defense made the early lead stick. Eastern defenders came up with two goal-saving plays, goalie Kyle McCreary had three stops including a safe two-handed snag of a driven free kick in the second half, and Eastern (10-6-1) booked a spot in today’s semifinals against No. 15-ranked Western.

Earlier Tuesday, Western beat Maconaquah 9-0.

“I’m proud of the boys. We came together so quickly after everybody came back from the injuries,” Eastern coach John VanMatre said.

The Comets sputtered the first half of the season without their full lineup, but now, with their expected complement of players, have won seven straight since a 4-2 loss to Western on Sept. 21. Eastern had lost 5-0 to Northwestern in the first week of the season and overturned that result Tuesday.

“This year we were trying to shift gears a little bit and have a little bit more control through the midfield and have control at the 18 [yard box] and I saw it happening and it really gelled against some of our weaker opponents at the end of the season,” John VanMatre said. “I didn’t know how it would carry over into a big pressure game like this, and it did, and I was really proud of them to keep that kind of focus and confidence.”

Eastern had more of the ball in the first half and held a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard as a result but the action was end to end.

“They got a goal in early which really helps with the momentum and how you game plan from there,” Northwestern coach Michael Goodrich said. “Lance is a phenomenal finisher. We knew he was going to score and to get that early goal, that shifted the momentum their way and they were able to go with that.”

Eastern nursed that narrow advantage until the 61st minute when Comet midfielder Joao Victor Abilio slotted a diagonal pass that caught forward Luke Swartzendruber in stride to pierce the box and score, doubling Eastern’s advantage.

“That was a great goal too,” John VanMatre said. “That was a beautiful slotted ball from Victor and Luke, he does this thing but I have confidence in him now, he always dribbles it a couple times more than I think he needs to but he always ends up with the goal in those situations so I can’t complain.”

The Comet defense came up with equally big defensive plays in the second half. In the 44th minute, a Northwestern attack produced a high ball into the box that McCreary intercepted but couldn’t secure. The loose ball fell behind him and an Eastern defender cleared the danger before a Northwestern player could arrive to score.

“There are certain moments in a game that shift the momentum and we needed to score there,” Goodrich said. “We needed to get a goal at that time in order to shift the momentum and make it 1-1. We talked about how those opportunities come few and far between and then they do, you have to capitalize on them and if you don’t, you pay for them. We ended up paying for it.”

McCreary had a tough save in the first half off a Zam Zam Miller shot, then came up big with a stop on a Northwestern free kick in the 62nd minute. Northwestern’s best chance then came in the 68th minute.

Tiger forward Nathan Bennett got behind the Comet defense with 40 yards to go for goal but Eastern central defender Ethan Wilcox made up ground and tracked him down in the box to disrupt his shot and squash Northwestern’s last good threat.

Northwestern ends its season 9-9.

“I’m very proud of our guys to win nine games with all the injuries we had,” Goodrich said. “We had a lot of people that stepped up. Seniors Patrick Bath and Nathan Bennett, those two guys stepped up big time throughout the season and again [Tuesday]. And [goalie] Vance Rogers did a good job back in goal.”

Rogers had five saves.

WESTERN 9, MAC 0

Western scored three times in the first 18 minutes and controlled the action against Maconaquah. Noah Stranahan and Lucas Pitzer scored twice and Payton Irwin John Maher, Skylar Zavala, Nathan Tuchscherer and Brandon Cochran hit the net for the Panthers (16-1).

Max Harbaugh had two assists and Stranahan, Maher and Nolan Kessler each had one.

“I thought we did pretty well,” Western coach Mike Roe said. “We possessed the ball well. A couple times I thought we got out of our shape a little bit and got a little sloppy, but I thought we regained that form pretty quickly. The boys stayed focused. We tried to make sure that our shots on frame were quality. I can’t necessarily say that we finished the first opportunities but it was the second and third sometimes that we capitalized on.”

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