|Staff photo by Brad Spahr/ West Chester East's Luis Castillo celebrates his first-half goal during Tuesday's 1-0 victory over Avon Grove.|
By BRAD SPAHR
WEST GOSHEN - This year’s West Chester East High School boys soccer team is hoping to take the program to places it hasn’t been in quite some time. Not only do they expect to make the district playoffs, they also hope to contend for a league title.
On Tuesday night, the Vikings took a definite step in that direction behind senior Luis Castillo’s first-half goal and a strong defensive effort as they scored an impressive 1-0 victory over visiting Avon Grove at Harold I. Zimmerman Stadium in a hard-fought Ches-Mont League National Division match.
Although it’s still very early in the season, West Chester East (2-0 National, 3-1 overall) moved into sole possession of first place atop the National Division standings with the win, as they are the only remaining team in the division without a league loss.
"We beat Octorara 2-0 in our first league game, and last year we didn’t have a game in the Ches-Mont that we won by more than one goal. Then coming in here tonight and beating a very good Avon Grove team -- this was a huge win for us," said second-year West Chester East coach Tom Creighton, whose Vikings finished 5-10-1 overall a year ago. "We have a number of league games in a row coming up that we feel we are capable of winning if we keep working hard. This is a team that definitely feels it can make some noise this season."
A scrappy and physical Vikings team will have to make that noise this fall without standout senior forward Jeff Ballard, who suffered a broken leg in the league-opening victory over Octorara last Thursday, and will most likely miss the remainder of the season. On Tuesday night, East had other players step up.
Castillo scored the lone goal of the match with 10:08 remaining in the first half. He did so thanks to a sensational direct kick from 30 yards out that just snuck under the crossbar and over the outstretched arms of Avon Grove goalie Josh Halsey (seven saves).
"Right before I took the kick I saw their goalie take a step to his right, and I used that to my advantage and hit it to the left side," said Castillo. "I just tried to get it over their wall and keep it under the crossbar. It was a great feeling seeing it go in.
"This was a total team effort for us, and it was a big game for us to get. At this point we are trying to win for Jeff after his injury."
While West Chester East was without one key player in Ballard, it had another one back on the field for the first time this season in senior goalie Kyle Forsythe, who made eight saves in the shutout. The Vikings needed every one of those stops as Avon Grove (1-1, 1-3) applied some serious offensive pressure in the second half but was unable to get one by Forsythe for the equalizer.
With 28 minutes left in the match, Avon Grove’s Ken Fichter was robbed on a great scoring chace from inside the box by Forsythe. Then just moments later on a direct kick from 20 yards out, Forsythe punched away Omar Hernandez’s shot to save a goal.
Avon Grove also had a phenomenal scoring opportunity with 16:05 to go off a corner kick, but Cody Cortlessa’s header just sailed over the crossbar. Forsythe made two more big saves down the stretch, including one with 1:49 remaining when Cortlessa struck a terrific shot that nearly found the top right corner before being punched away by the Vikings’ net minder.
It was a frustrating loss for Avon Grove, who had knocked off reigning Ches-Mont League champion Unionville in overtime of its league opener.
"We are really struggling to score right now," said longtime Red Devils coach Dave Whitcraft. "We don’t play well with just one forward and that’s what we were forced to do tonight.
"This was a really solidly played game by both teams, and it was fairly evenly played. They ran their set pieces very well and it cost us."
West Chester East had a couple of great chances of its own in the second half that would’ve given the Vikings a cushion. Senior Matthew McCrory just sent his flick shot inside the box off an indirect kick over the crossbar five minutes into the final half. Then with 21 minutes left, McCrory hit the crossbar on a very well struck shot after winning the ball inside the box off a corner.
The Vikings’ defense, though, was rock solid all night as they bent, but never broke.
"We want to play a physical game," said Creighton. "Our defense is very strong. Our back four is like an offensive line and they really did a great job tonight."
W.C. East 1, Avon Grove 0
Avon Grove 0 0 -- 0
W.C. East 1 0 -- 1
W.C. East goal: Castillo.Goalie saves: Halsey (AG) 7; Forsythe (WCE) 8.