Fisher/GCMS soccer wins 3-0 over Rantoul

FISHER — When the Bunnies took a 2-0 halftime lead over fellow News-Gazette top-10 squad St. Joseph-Ogden on Sept. 5, it looked like the last 40 minutes would be a breeze.
 
Or, at least that’s what the Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley soccer team thought after it watched Caleb Bleich net a pair of goals, the second of which came in the 38th minute of the first half off a setup by Tyler Ricks. 
 
Things quickly turned south, as the Spartans proved why they also belong among the area’s upper echelon with a trio of unanswered goals for a comeback 3-2 victory. 
 
According to players and coaches alike, the feeling of that sickening loss seems to have woken everyone up and become a rallying cry, a motivational tool, for the Bunnies.
 
“We started off strong, and then we kind of got complacent again,” Bleich said. “We got up 2-0 against St. Joe and the second half, we didn’t (finish). We thought we had it and let them come back. But then after that, we’ve had hard practices. We’ve been going hard and competing in practice, and I think it shows on the field that we all want to win now.
 
“After that game, we actually practiced. Instead of going half speed, we went full speed. It just made us really want to win, and we used it as motivation for the game we beat Clifton Central 12-0 (last Saturday).”
 
The Bunnies (8-2-2) have won five of the last six and three straight coming off the SJ-O loss, with the latest win coming in a 3-0 victory over Rantoul last Tuesday. It was Fisher/GCMS’ third consecutive win, and third straight shutout, of the Eagles after handing them 2-0 defeats in 2015 and 2016.
 
“You always know a game against Rantoul is going to be a tough game,” Fisher/GCMS coach Levi Horsch said. “They come out hard no matter what their record is. It’s going to be a good game, and it was this year for sure. We put a lot of effort in (last Monday’s 6-0 win over Bismarck-Henning), so I think we were kind of feeling that in the second half. Coming out early they were really pressuring us a lot in the midfield, and we weren’t able to get stuff going like we wanted to.”
 
“Rantoul played hard,” Fisher/GCMS senior Alec Johnson said. “They were one of the fastest, athletic teams we’ve played in a while, so it’s kind of hard to get with it. But once we kind of got used to it, we played our best. We came off three games in four days, so we were a little bit tired, but we just gave it everything we had, and it worked out in the end.”
 
Fisher/GCMS got first-half goals off the foot of Matthias Dean (28th minute) and off a Johnson header from a few feet out (34th minute) from passes by Bleich. 
 
And with three minutes remaining, Tyler Ricks bent in a long shot for an insurance goal that wrapped up the Bunnies’ win, ensuring a three-goal comeback would not be in the cards a la the SJ-O loss.
 
“I think in games we were being a little bit complacent when we got ahead and almost playing not to lose,” Horsch said. “That St. Joe game we let them come back in the game, and it caught us off guard. We had to use that as a learning experience for the rest of the season. I think it can be a turning point for us.”
 
“The coaches have really been telling us that once we go up, we can’t just be happy that we’re up,” Bleich said. “We have to keep playing and try to get more goals so we won’t let the lead slip. We’ve got to continue to go hard because there are going to be games where we have to play hard the entire game. If we get up and don’t play hard, we’re not going to be used to it when we need it.”
 
Giving the Bunnies a game
It was far from all roses for the Bunnies throughout a physical, rugged and hard-nosed 80-minute game at the Fisher Village Park. 
 
Rantoul played well defensively, stifling each of the Bunnies’ attacks until they finally broke through with just over 12 minutes to play in the first half. And though the Eagles did not rack up many shots on goal, there was a balance in offensive attacks between the two clubs — Rantoul had plenty of offensive runs stall out due to the Fisher/GCMS defensive unit.
 
“I was really impressed with the Fisher team,” Rantoul coach Michael Masters said. “They came out here, and they knew what they wanted to do. I actually feel like we have similar styles. We both want to apply a lot of pressure. We both want to go after every single 50/50 ball. So at halftime, that’s what we talked about, and in that last 10 minutes (of the first half), Fisher won a couple 50/50 balls that led to opportunities for them. And that led to two goals for them. And in the last three minutes when we were attacking trying to put a goal in, we were winning all the 50/50 balls.
 
“I feel like we played with them all game, and if we break down our season we would break it down to what happened today. Against quality opponents, we make a couple mental errors that they capitalize on, and that comes back to bite us. I was proud of the heart and effort I got. We just couldn’t put it together in the end.”
 
Masters had praise for the Bunnies’ defense, notably Jeremy Steidinger, who wowed the first-year head coach with his relentless ability to bust the Eagles’ attacks.
 
“If we’re talking about defenders, I can’t leave off (Steidinger),” Masters said. “I think he’s the man of the match. We can almost singularly point to the fact that every combination we had, every time we were playing a ball to someone’s feet, he was there. He had a heck of a game, and that made it really tough on us.”
 
While Fisher/GCMS matched up with Iroquois West on Monday and Mt. Pulaski on Tuesday, Rantoul got back to the pitch Thursday with a home match against Unity. It was the first game at Bill Walsh Field, the Eagles’ football field, after moving games over from Bill Seeber Soccer Complex
 
All of Rantoul’s remaining home games will be played at Bill Walsh, including Saturday’s 8-0 win over Decatur Eisenhower and Tuesday’s matchup with SJ-O.
 
“We were talking (after the Fisher/GCMS game) and outside of one game of the past five or six, our quality has been getting better every single game,” Masters said. “And we said it at the beginning (of the season), this team is going to excel when we build a level of trust to depend on each and every one of us. And everybody is starting to step up to that.
 
“We’re itching to see Unity on Thursday. You never want to have too long of a break in between games when you’re coming off an L. So we’re really looking forward to that.”
 
The Eagles (4-7) fell to Unity, 3-1, on Thursday before defeating Decatur Eisenhower behind a hat trick from Garet Kinnett, two goals by Martin Sebastian and two assists from Ivan Diaz.
 
Extra motivation
Bleich admitted that it wasn’t just another regular-season game he and his teammates squared off against their local rival.
 
The Bunnies had some extra motivation, being pitted against former teammate Andy Girkin. 
 
Girkin, who transferred to Rantoul from Fisher, spent his first season as an Eagle in 2016. The Rantoul sophomore is friends with some of the Fisher players, such as Bleich and sophomore goalkeeper Ethan Kasper, so there was some light-hearted trash talking.
 
“We really wanted to beat them because (Girkin) came to practice with us during the summer because he was going to move back here,” Bleich said. “But then he went back (to Rantoul), so we really wanted to beat him. But we knew coming in they were going to be fast. But we had some extra (motivation).”
 
 
Fisher/GCMS 3, Rantoul 0
At Fisher
Halftime -- F/GCMS 2, Rantoul 0
Scoring summary 
28th minute F/GCMS - Matthias Dean (Caleb Bleich)
34th minute F/GCMS - Alec Johnson (Caleb Bleich)
77th minute F/GCMS - Tyler Ricks (Alec Johnson)
Team stats
Shots on goal -- F/GCMS 13 (Alec Johnson 3, Tyler Ricks 3, Caleb Bleich 2, Andrew Ferguson 2, Matthias Dean, Graham Voelker, William Shook.
Keeper saves -- F/GCMS 2 (Ethan Kasper 2).

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