Senior captains Oscar Lomeli (Jalisco, Mexico/ (Bethel [Ind.]) and Paul Leitelt (Munster, Ind./Munster) led by example Friday afternoon at Eastgate Field, as both netted second-half goals to lead Valparaiso to a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Eastern Illinois in the season opener.
“Oscar and Paul really showed today why they’re our captains,” said Crusader head coach Mike Avery. “They stepped up with us trailing at halftime and led the way to the victory in the second half.”
With five of Valpo’s starting 11 playing for the first time at the Division I level, including goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck (Coralville, Iowa/Iowa City West), the game got off to a less than ideal start, as Eastern Illinois’ Adam Gartner won a scramble in front of the net off of a corner from Alex Harrison and found the back of the net in the third minute of play to put the Panthers ahead 1-0. That would be it for the scoring in the first half, though, as the Crusaders and Panthers each attempted just five first half shots.
“I thought we started the game a little bit nervously,” said Avery. “But towards the middle of the first half, we started to calm down and did a much better job controlling the game.”
Early on in the second stanza, Valpo found itself with a golden opportunity, as Lomeli was hauled down in the box by the Panthers’ Chris Pearson and awarded a penalty kick. The senior stepped up and calmly drilled the ball into the bottom-left corner of the net to knot up the match at one goal apiece in the 49th minute.
In the 65th minute, the Crusaders put together another great scoring chance. After winning a ball in the defensive end, Adrian Ortiz (Berwyn, Ill./Morton West) booted a perfect 40-yard pass across the field to a streaking Leitelt, giving him a one-on-one opportunity with Panther netminder Mark Hansen. Hansen turned away Leitelt’s first shot, but the rebound came right back to the senior, who found the right side of the net to put Valpo ahead 2-1.
“I thought we really found ourselves at the halftime break, and came out with some urgency in the second half,” said Avery. “We came out, controlled the play and got the goals we needed.”
Eastern Illinois had a few late chances to tie the game, putting two shots on frame in the final ten minutes and also earning a corner kick in the waning seconds. But Zobeck and the Crusader defense stood firm, helping Valpo to defeat Eastern Illinois for the first time in the last four meetings.
“Kyle really did a good job after the early goal,” said Avery. “As a true freshman making his first start in net, he made several key plays down the stretch for us to earn the win. Andrew Stewart (Buffalo Grove, Ill./Stevenson) also was huge on the back line for us today. He did a great job neutralizing EIU’s [Brad] Peters, who is a Hermann Award candidate, in the second half when they were pushing to try to score the equalizer.”
The Crusaders outshot Eastern Illinois for the game, 12-10, led by five attempts from Leitelt. The Panthers put six shots on goal, five of which were stopped by Zobeck. Hansen made three saves in net for Eastern Illinois (0-1-0).
Valparaiso (1-0-0) returns to the pitch on Sunday, traveling to DePaul for a 5 p.m. matchup. Live stats can be accessed at www.valpoathletics.com.