Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski

It might’ve been a higher power.

Perhaps karma.

Even destiny.

Whatever you want to call it: Mattoon (12-10-1) closed out Charleston in head coach Ryan Ghere’s last match against the Trojans for a 2-1 victory in the IHSA Class 2A regional semifinal Tuesday evening.

In the early match, Civic Memorial defeated Effingham, 8-0. 

“It’s a win,” Mattoon senior midfielder Quentin Wright said, “but you hope to see better than 2-1.”

MHS’s Jason Skocy (left), Quentin Wright

Charleston (8-14-1) came out strong in the first half, unlike last Thursday when the Green Wave had defeated them in an impassioned 4-0 win on MHS’s senior night, by denying the Green Wave opportunities to set up on the wings through the middle. The two teams battled to a scoreless first half.

That would change almost immediately after the break.

“The first half they were aggressive,” Charleston coach Zach Stranz said. “Whenever Mattoon had the ball, our guys were right on them. I told them to keep it up. The second half, I didn’t see that at all. They were watching. That’s just stuff we need to work on next year. We have to play a full game. I’ve been saying it all year: we put together a few good halves, but we need to put together a good 80 minutes.”

Mattoon’s Korbin Batem and Charleston’s Grant Kattenbraker collide for possession of the ball Tuesday evening.

Less than two minutes into the second half, Mattoon senior Ty Eastin lobbed a shot over the outstretched arms of Charleston senior goalkeeper Alex Dow, giving the Green Wave a 1-0 lead.

“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Ghere said. “We talked about how their keeper is off his line and could be chipped. Ty listened and put one over the keeper’s head and skipped off the bottom of the bar and went in.”

“It was a great shot,” Wright said. “I’m pretty sure it came from Jace (Gardner) in the corner back to him. He just chipped it over the keeper.”

Mattoon didn’t give the Trojans much until a corner kick in the 55th minute brought some life to Charleston.

The ball bounced around to the right post, before settling on the foot of CHS’s Jerztine Espejo, who caught Mattoon senior goaltender Jason Skocy out of position. The net was defended by three Mattoon players, but Espejo put the ball to tie the score at 1.

“You know, there was a little confusion in the back,” Gardner said. “It bobbled around, and, if you let it sit around in the 6-yard box, it’s going to go in at some point.”

Skocy said those kinds of mistakes need to be cleaned up for their next opponent, Civic Memorial on Friday for the regional championship.

“We have to clean that up a bit. I called it. I should’ve gotten it out,” Skocy said. “I should’ve punched something on it. We have to clean that up. When you play Civic Memorial, you can’t make mistakes in the postseason. It’s going to bite you in the butt.”

Less than a minute later, Gardner found the ball rolling out of a scrum. 

“The ball just came to me,” Gardner said. “I just put it in. It was very exciting, especially after they just scored.”

Ghere was not surprised by the goal.

“There was Jace being the garbage man at the back post,” he said. “That’s how he’s scored half his goals this year by showing up at the back post and found way.”

“It’s disappointing,” Stranz said. “I commend my guys. They played so well. The first half was exactly what I was asking for. The second half … I don’t know. It was just tough. We were out Brandon (Jones) due to injury. (He’s) a key central holder. Without him there, we were playing mismatch. Losing him in the second half just slowed us down. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the win.”

Skocy said they didn’t come out with energy.

“Tonight, we didn’t set the tone early, we just couldn’t get the ball in the net,” Skocy said. “We let them hang around. It’s a rivalry. Luckily, we came back pretty good. A win is a win at the end of the day, but we have to get better for Friday.”

After Tuesday’s game, Ghere sits at 299 boys varsity soccer wins.

Ghere said he’s not concerned with that. 

Civic Memorial eliminated the Green Wave from postseason play last year, handing them a 3-0 loss to start the season,

“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I’m more worried about winning our regional. We’re going to have to defend well. They have good strikers up top who scored a bunch of goals earlier tonight. We’re going to have to defend well and give ourselves chances. I think their better players are on offense. They have lots of weapons.”


38:14 Mattoon: Ty Eastin 1 (unassisted)

14:39 Charleston Jerztine Espejo 1 (unassisted)

14:12 Mattoon: Jace Gardner 1 (unassisted)