Judah Christian gains shot of confidence in final regular season tuneup

Judah Christian gains shot of confidence in final regular season tuneup

CHAMPAIGN — Tough times have fallen upon the Judah Christian boys' soccer program.

Senior defenseman Benjamin Rebeiz was lost for the season earlier this week because of an ankle injury.

Junior goal-scorers Caleb Aldridge and Joseph Linsner took reduced minutes Thursday against Monticello because of their own maladies.

The Tribe's final regular-season match was one it'd need to gut through. And so it did, gaining some critical confidence along the way.

Aldridge, Linsner and senior Micah Mills each tallied during a 22-minute span in the first half, lifting Judah to a 3-1 triumph at their Field of Dreams facility.

"After about 15 minutes, we let (Aldridge and Linsner) go in for about five or 10, and that's when that stretch kind of started," Judah coach Josh Birky said. "Being the last game before the playoffs, we wanted to make sure they had a little bit of rest. We put them in to kind of kick-start things a little bit."

After the Sages (8-10-1) produced the opening marker on a header from junior Tristan Fox about 12 minutes in, the Tribe (9-7-2) got to work.

Aldridge weaved through Monticello defenders less than a minute after Fox's effort and beat junior keeper Rye Johnson. Mills did the same in the 21st minute, and Linsner found space in the middle not long before halftime.

"We were worried about some outside shots, so we were almost too aggressive to a point," Monticello boss Dan Burkybile said. "Then they kind of sliced us up after we didn't come out as strong."

Aiding Judah's first-half surge was a stiff wind at its players' backs. Birky admitted after the contest the weather shifted momentum as much as the actual gameplay.

That became apparent following intermission, as the Sages outshot the Tribe 6-1 and once nailed the crossbar above senior netminder Griffin Fazio.

But Fazio held strong for Judah, posting 12 saves while playing behind a reworked defensive line created in the wake of Rebeiz's injury.

"His best quality is he's a very aggressive keeper," Birky said of Fazio. "The first goal, he misjudged it because of the wind. But he adjusted really well and dealt with them all in the second half."

This outcome was critical for the Tribe's new-look back line, which is composed of two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman.

"It wasn't always pretty. They made mistakes. But they were aggressive," Birky said. "They got in front of things, and the midfield came back and helped."

Monticello, on the other hand, must find its offensive groove as a No. 5 seed heading into Wednesday's Class 1A Cornerstone Christian Regional semifinal against third-seeded Bloomington Central Catholic.

The Illini Prairie Conference foes matched up on Sept. 18, with the Saints netting a 6-1 win.

"We have three seniors, so we're kind of a younger team," Burkybile said. "We're definitely looking for guys to kind of step up."

Judah has drawn a familiar face in its 1A St. Thomas More Regional semifinal on Wednesday: the host Sabers.

The two sides met in a rainy season opener on Aug. 20, with STM pulling out a 2-0 decision. Birky isn't so sure the same result will occur next week, even with his squad's rocky health.

"We played them tight for a good portion of that game," Birky said. "So we feel like we definitely have the capacity to stick with them this year at the end of the game and maybe surprise some people."