If you can’t go through them, go around them.
That’s the strategy Naperville North used to solve Marmion’s air-tight defense on Tuesday.
After a scoreless first half, Brandon Hipp and Chris Sullivan tallied goals in the second half to lift the host Huskies to a 2-0 victory in a Class 3A Naperville North Regional semifinal.
“They certainly battled,” Sullivan said. “They were physical and tough and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But we knew if we put our minds to it we could do it.”
Sullivan, who is regarded as one of the more cerebral players in the game, figured out how crack the Cadets. He played a ball out wide to the right wing to Chris Ensign, whose cross found Brandon Hipp open in front for a toe-poke shot that rolled off the inside of the left post and in with 34:18 remaining.
“At halftime we talked about always switching the ball and I saw Chris make that run,” Sullivan said. “It took a lucky deflection, and Chris was in and found Hipp with a great pass.”
The goal was Hipp’s 13th of the season, and while it wasn’t exactly a bullet, it got the job done for the Huskies (13-4-3).
“I found myself in front of the goal with the ball at my feet and I tried to find the corner,” Hipp said. “I didn’t really hit it with the right part of my foot but it went where I wanted it to go.”
While Hipp’s goal turned out to be the game-winner, Sullivan’s was an exclamation point.
It came with 24:16 to go on an 18-yard free kick from inches outside the top of the box. Marmion (12-11) set up a six-player wall in front of goalkeeper Matt Fletcher, but Sullivan somehow knocked it into the lower-left corner of the net.
“It’s always a dangerous [opportunity] when we get a free kick that close and I saw the wall was lined up all on the back post,” said Sullivan, who has eight goals and 11 assists.“As I was approaching it, I saw the goalie go behind the wall, so that side was wide open.”
Fletcher, who had made a point-blank save on a breakaway by Hipp in the first half, thought Sullivan was going to go the other way.
“I thought my wall had the near post covered, but with a shot so close you can never know how covered it is,” Fletcher said. “I tend to cheat a little bit near post and I left it a little bit open, so that one was on me.”
But Naperville North coach Jim Konrad noted it was a credit to Sullivan’s intuition.
“He’s very smart kid,” Konrad said. “He knows when something’s on and he’s good enough to tuck it in the corner.
“Obviously that gave us a sigh of relief because they did not give us much. The only space we had was on the outside and it took us a while to kind of get used to looking to play the ball wider, and then Hipp comes through for us and gets a goal and then Sully a clever little restart.”
Christian Robert did not have to make a save in recording his eighth shutout for the Huskies, who outshot the Cadets 17-3, though few were quality chances.
“I’m very proud of the boys and the work they put in this week to prepare for this game,” Marmion coach Ricky Del Toro said. “We gave them a good battle. Unfortunately they finished their chances.”