The turn around between game one and game two of a two game week is critical. Especially when that turn around includes a lead-in to an important conference opener. Luckily for the Tommies, they got quite literally everything right.
Their game on Wednesday was well played, but there were improvements to be made. After all, a draw isn’t the aim for most teams. The Tommies’ attack was able to spring a goal in the first game of the week, but today’s game was a different story entirely. The attacking combinations were truly inspired, with the likes of Isaac Eckroth, Carver Tierney, Charlie Holton, and Jacek Nickowski moving fluidly throughout the field, finding one another, and wreaking havoc on the Eastern Illinois defense.
The first to strike was Tierney. Holton received the ball in midfield, played Nickowski out into space, who delivered a cross into a streaking Carver Tierney. He took a touch to control the ball and then finished into the top left corner for his second goal of the season, moving him up to joint top scorer for the Tommies with two goals on the season.
St. Thomas didn’t just score first, they controlled the game entirely. They came out of the gates ready to play and it showed: winning every second ball, launching players forward without abandon, and pressuring the Cougars so much that they were barely even able to get out of their defensive half in the first half.
Much of that control came thanks to the excellent play of senior Wes Lorrens. The man was all over the field, winning second balls, closing off passing lanes, transitioning the attack from one side of the field to the next, the only thing he wasn’t able to do today was score, and with the service he was getting from set pieces, it’s a miracle that he wasn’t able to put one into the net.
He’s much more than just an absolute wrecking ball of a man though, he’s the heartbeat of the team. “One person can watch a game and see it one way, the other person can see it the other, but one thing we all agree on is that we’ve found the right spot for Wes,” Coach Lowery said when asked about his man of the match performance. “… the thing that Wes brings is just the leadership intangible and what he’s done now is really matured. He knows what he’s good at, he does those things, and he stays out of the stuff he’s not so good at… I think physically he stands out, which I like, but then just his mentality and following that. I think guys really are comfortable with him kinda leading us.”
That control came to a front again in the 44th minute when Dennis Mensah Jr. cut inside, drawing in the centerbacks and playing a beautiful through ball to the on-running Faris Colic, who calmly finished around the Cougar keeper to put the Tommies up 2-0 heading into the halftime break.
Eastern Illinois came out running in the second half, but to no avail. Thy were able to build a more cohesive attack, managing to get into dangerous positions a couple of times, but never finding a chance from it. Two yellow cards from Nikola Salopek brought the Cougars down to ten men for the final 25 minutes of game time and all but sealed the conference victory for St. Thomas.
There were some tense moments that you wouldn’t want to see from a team up 2-0 and a man in the final twenty minutes (the game got very open-ended at times), but Coach Lowery is already planning on fixing that in the lead-up to Gonzaga this Tuesday, “I’ll be honest with ya, I thought in the second half we could’ve done it way better, uh, and what I saw in the second half was a team that hasn’t been carrying a 2-0 lead in a lot of second halves. And now we’ll look at that film and we’ll make adjustments.”
The Tommies will look to carry the momentum from Saturday’s match into another midweek game, Tuesday against their final non-conference game of the season Gonzaga, and very few changes will be made, “We’re gonna play them straight up you know? I wanna go into this game and see how good we can be and there’s no reason that we’re gonna sit, there’s no reason that we’re not gonna try to get on the ball,” was what Lowery had to say about the upcoming game. The game will start at 4pm in St. Paul, and it’s one that you won’t want to miss.