Fisher/GCMS soccer ends season with loss in regional semifinals

DOWNS — The eerie resemblances heading into Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley’s 1A regional soccer match with Bloomington Cornerstone last Wednesday were too prevelant to ignore.
 
The dark grey clouds spread across the sky were not just a precursing metaphor of the gloom to come for fifth-seeded Fisher/GCMS. They also brought forth a stern memory of last October’s regional matchup between the two teams.
 
On the elevated, open-air field at Cornerstone Christian Academy in 2016, the Bunnies and Cyclones rematched 11 days later in the postseason following a hard-fought regular-season game (ending in a draw).
 
It was a drizzly, cold, windy and nasty day last fall when the two clubs met, and it ended in Cornerstone taking control in a 5-2 win.
 
The Bunnies showed some life in that first matchup but ultimately fell.
 
In the postseason grudge match this season, it was a spitting image of last year’s game, as the two teams squared off at the same field under nearly the same conditions (though a little less cold and not quite as windy). And it also came in a rematch 11 days later (this time following a 3-2 Cornerstone win buoyed by a game-winning goal with under a minute to play).
 
Unfortunately for the Bunnies, it all turned into a bad feeling of déjà vu against Cornerstone in a 3-1 loss to the Cyclones, who have proven to have Fisher/GCMS’ number. The Cyclones are now 3-0-1 against the Bunnies in the last four meetings and have ended their season the past two years.
 
More history repeated itself for Fisher/GCMS in the loss to third-seeded Cornerstone. 
 
In the regular-season meeting, the Bunnies took a 1-0 lead with a late halftime goal but allowed three second-half goals.
 
In the regional matchup, Tyler Ricks sent a long shot into the net for a 1-0 lead with 40 seconds remaining in the half to give the Bunnies momentum at the break. 
 
“Just play another solid 40 minutes,” Bunnies coach Levi Horsch said of what he told his team at halftime. “Coach (Robbie) Dinkins and I told them we played a really good 40 minutes. You just have to put another good 40 minutes on top of it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that.”
 
But the Cyclones (14-7-4 following Friday’s 3-1 regional title game loss to Bloomington Central Catholic) came out fired up in the second half, as Brian Matipa sent a shot towards Fisher/GCMS goalkeeper Ethan Kasper.
 
The ball hit the sophomore’s hands and slipped out into the net for the equalizer with 34 minutes, 43 seconds left.
 
“I thought Ethan played a great game and had a great season,” Horsch said. “We thought he communicated well with the defense. I thought he played really well. There were some good shots he stopped and did a good job in-goal. There were some that he couldn’t stop. I think that first one was the only one he could’ve stopped. I thought he had a great game.”
 
With about 23 minutes remaining, Cornerstone’s top offensive player, Moses Kabuswe, matched up with the Bunnies’ top defender, Jeremy Steidinger, one-on-one, and the Fisher/GCMS senior stood tall, not falling for a series of Kabuswe’s quick moves, and the Cyclones came up empty-handed.
 
The biggest moment of the match came shortly after, when the Bunnies had a good opportunity to score, but a turnover deep in Cornerstone territory led to the Cyclones getting the go-ahead goal with less than 20 minutes remaining.
 
After the turnover, Cornerstone raced to the other end of the field, and with the Bunnies’ defense spread out, James McBride banked a shot off the right post and in for a 2-1 lead. Kabuswe added an insurance goal later in the game to put it out of reach.
 
“The first goal they got, it stinks. Unlucky on that one. The second one, their guy made a play, and we couldn’t slow him down,” Horsch said. “That third goal, we had to take some of our defenders out and push them up to try and get the goal to get back in the game. Unfortunately, it didn’t work from there.
 
“If it’s a 1-1 game, it’s anyone’s game, but with them putting that second in, it gave them a lot of confidence and made us change a lot of things we wanted to do. It stinks because the opportunities were there, but we didn’t capitalize.”
 
Adjustments
Each of the previous three times the Bunnies played Cornerstone, the Cyclones’ superior speed played a pivotal role in the match. Horsch and Dinkins decided to try and neutralize that with a different alignment in the postseason matchup.
 
Instead of a normal 4-5-1 setup (four defenseman, five midfielders and one striker up top), the Bunnies shifted to a 5-4-1 to put an extra defender in the back. The strategy, which the Bunnies worked on for about a week and a half in practice leading up to the game, seemed to work.
 
“We just wanted to slow down what they were trying to do offensively,” Horsch said. “I didn’t think they got anything throughout the game that they wanted to get. They’re a through-ball team, and we wanted to change our formation to stop their through-ball opportunities. I thought we did a good job. The first goal they got was just unlucky, and we had to switch out of (our original alignment), and they got a through-ball out of that. ... I thought we did a good job slowing them down, and we still had good opportunities on offense. We didn’t convert on ours, and they did on theirs.”
 
Making history
The loss put an end to one of the best seasons in Fisher/GCMS soccer program history.
 
The Bunnies finished 11-5-4 with 10 shutouts. Seven seniors will graduate, including five regular starters (Alexis Hallden, Matthias Dean, Jeremy Steidinger, Alec Johnson and Nate Schutte, with Gabrielle Shook and Alayna Stalter the other two seniors).
 
“I was talking to the seniors just about what they’ve done since they came in,” Horsch said. “They’ve really turned the program around. This year, I think everything just came together, defensively and offensively. It stinks that it’s over, but the 10 shutouts and only allowing 20 goals on the year (is incredible). Last year I think we allowed 20 goals in the first four or five games. To play as a unit like that all year was pretty impressive. I thought it was a really good season, and the players who are going to come in here next year, it’s expected for them to win now. It’s not an aberration. They’re supposed to win now.
 
“We’ve got a lot of guys returning. We’re going to miss our seniors. They were a big part of this team, but we’re just going to have to have some other guys step up. We can’t go backwards. I don’t think anybody expects us to do that. We just want to go bigger and better next year.”
 
IHSA Class 1A
BLOOMINGTON CORNERSTONE REGIONAL
Cornerstone Christian Academy 3, Fisher/GCMS 1
Halftime -- F/GCMS 1, CCA 0
Scoring summary
40th minute F/GCMS -- Tyler Ricks (Caleb Bleich)
Individual stats
Shots on goal -- F/GCMS 7 (Tyler Ricks 2, Caleb Bleich 2, Graham Voelker, Alec Johnson).
Keeper saves -- F/GCMS 6 (Ethan Kasper 6).

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