With a wealth of offensive chances this fall and not a lot to show for it, Howard coach Nils Schroder said he has been eagerly anticipating the game where everything clicked for his squad.
It took until the third to last game of the regular season, but on the road against Hammond on Thursday night in a game played under a light rain, Schroder and the Lions finally got what they were looking for.
After trailing 2-1 at the half, Howard (2-6-1, 3-8-1) regrouped to score twice in a span of just over a minute immediately after intermission to take a lead it never relinquished the rest of the way en route to a 3-2 victory. The win snapped a five-game losing skid for the Lions and conversely ended a three-game winning streak for Hammond (4-4-1, 6-5-1).
“Considering how things have gone for us this year, we talked at the break about how important it was that we scored early in the second half. We’ve had too many games where we’ve been close and just not been able to finish,” said Schroder, whose team had scored a combined two goals during its previous five games, “So for us to get the one so quickly, you just kind of felt like the flood gates were going to open.
“We needed a game like this. It’s nice to walk away with an actual victory instead of another moral victory.”
Mark Bruner scored the tying goal for the Lions with 35:41 left in the second half, deflecting a ball in on the left post. Then, just 90 seconds later, Shane Fisher gave Howard its first lead courtesy of a shot from the left side that curled just inside the far post.
And staked to that advantage, Howard’s defense did the rest. Colin Sutch came in for the second half at goalie and made four saves, anchoring a back line that was able to shut down Hammond’s offensive duo of Anderson Mejia-Marroquin and Brennan Reamer — who had each scored before halftime — over the final 40 minutes.
“It was definitely a game of halves because we definitely won that first half,” said Hammond coach David Reamer. “But we had those two defensive lapses early in the second half and then that was it, they were able to park the bus the rest of the time. They had 10 guys behind the ball and that made it really difficult to score. Credit to them, they played well, but we also made some costly mistakes.”
Hammond had scored first, with Reamer converting a pass from Zach Lippitt in transition just six minutes after the opening kick off.
Seven minutes later, Howard’s Monssef Marrakchi converted the equalizer on his own transition chance that saw him slip the ball past Hammond’s Brandon Eschman (4 saves) in a one-on-one situation.
But before the break, Hammond again regained the upper hand when Mejia-Marroquin got free in traffic and then turned and fired the ball off Howard goalie Kenny Accardi’s hands into the back of the net.
The Golden Bears simply were not able to sustain that momentum after the break. The two goals offensively mark only the fourth time all season that the team has been held to less than three scores.
For Howard, Schroder is hoping this result spurs the team on toward playoffs.
“We have always been a team that is better in October than we are in September, so I just told the guys that this is our turning point game,” Schroder said. “I’m hoping we look back a month from now and say this was the one that got us going toward a playoff run.”
Howard 3, Hammond 2
Goals: Ho – Marrakchi, Bruner, Fisher; Ha – Reamer, Mejia-Marroquin.
Assists: Ho – Ryerson, Marrakchi, Weaver; Ha – Lippitt, Reamer.
Saves: Ho – Sutch 4, Accardi 3; Ha – Eschman 4.
Half: 2-1 Ha.
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