Spartans must regroup and refocus after losing for the first time in eight matches

The Hillsboro boys soccer team lost a lot in a 4-1 defeat against McMinnville on Monday night.

With a 3-1 record in the Pacific Conference and just three matches left to play, it might take a miracle for the Spartans to bring home a league title.

“It would take a lot of help right now,” Hillsboro coach Tim Ellsworth says. “McMinnville would have to lose twice with us winning out. McMinnville is a very good side. I don’t see them losing twice in the last three games.”

But, with the loss, Hillsboro (7-3-1 overall) also learned a valuable lesson that could help them once playoffs roll around.

“We learned that we have to work harder,” Ellsworth says. “Out of the defeat we found out that we didn’t come into that game fully prepared and willing to put in the work. As we move toward the playoffs, that was an eye opener for our guys.

“We had won eight straight games without losing. The loss has jarred us back to real life — we won’t be successful without working. That might even be more powerful for us heading toward the playoffs than the wins that were coming before that.”

That is especially true because while Hillsboro has gone 7-0-1 over its last eight matches after dropping the first two matches of the season, Ellsworth says that his side has been playing inconsistently.

“It’s been kind of up and down,” Ellsworth says. “We’ll have a good week then a not so good week. We were getting results that we want to get, but we were maybe not playing to our potential at times.

“On the flip side, I’m pretty happy with the team. They want to achieve at a higher level, so that helps. We just need to clean it up when we’re playing against tougher teams.”

This season, Hillsboro has been lead by Juan Santiago, Lorenzo Baltrus, Aaron Barber-Axhelm and Tyler Hoiem.

Baltrus “doesn’t necessarily do a lot of the scoring, but, he does a lot of work to get the team going,” Ellsworth says. “He plays hard, he consistently puts in hard work all the time both during games and practice.”

Barber-Axhelm is “a kid that has fabulous skill and he just flat out works,” Ellsworth says. “His work rate is second to none. He’s willing to do the dirty work, grind out tackles, win balls. He loves to score when he gets that chance, but that’s not all he wants to do. He doesn’t mind deferring to other people for that. He just wants to work and have success.”

Santiago “has been working hard and doing well and helping the team push through. He has a great shot and has scored a few key goals for us to get games going for us.”

Hoiem is Hillsboro’s “leading goal scorer,” Ellsworth says. “He’s done a great job for us.”

Over Hillsboro’s final three matches of the season, Ellsworth hopes to see the Spartans begin to fine tune their performance heading into the playoffs and also secure a few home matches.

“Right now we’re just focused on taking care of consistency,” Ellsworth says. “We want to put in 80 full minutes every match for our last three matches and hopefully be victorious for all of those. We’re really trying to set ourselves up to push as high as we can in the standings in the state so we have an opportunity to play some playoff games at home.”

Despite having little chance of winning the league title, Ellsworth believes that if the Spartans can come together over their final three matches, they have the ability to make some noise in the playoffs.

“I like our chances,” Ellsworth says. “We have the same nucleus back from last year that experienced a good playoff run. And we’ve added some kids who have some good playoff experience from outside of the high school season that we’ll be able to sprinkle in with the other group.

“We have what it takes to be successful. We just need to fine tune that as we head down the stretch.”

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