NORMAL — The 2017 Intercity Boys Soccer Tournament saw Normal Community, Normal West and University High tie for the title.
After day four of the 22nd annual tourney on Thursday, another three-way tie is possible, but NCHS sits in the driver's seat thanks to a 3-0 triumph over visiting U High in which Michael Reibling scored twice.
Normal West, a 6-1 winner in its home opener against Bloomington, will try to hand the Ironmen (4-0-1 overall, 2-0-0 in the tourney) their first loss in Saturday's 10 a.m. showdown at West (4-1, 2-1).
Providing West with three goals was Jordan Walker, who has 10 for the season and 87 for his career. Parker Theobald chipped in two goals and two assists.
"We've got a tough test ahead of us," admitted NCHS coach Matt Chapman. "There is no time to celebrate."
Saturday's other 10 a.m. contest will pit Central Catholic (2-2, 0-2) against visiting U High (3-3, 2-1). BHS (1-3, 0-2) is off until Monday's 4:30 p.m. home game with NCHS.
The first half seemed destined to end in a scoreless tie when Jared Nutt's assist preceded a Drew Doellman goal with 1:02 remaining.
"That was crucial," Chapman said. "Nutt found an opening and he fed the gap. Drew just came in and ripped a great shot. We were able to change our game plan a little bit to try to protect that lead and it paid off.
"Michael Reibling is special sometimes. He's very tough to defend. That second goal was really big."
Nutt assisted on that goal as well as Reibling's shot eluded Pioneer keeper MacCallan Conklin with 34:39 left.
"Jared just gave me a great ball," Reibling said. "I just saw the goalie was a little bit to one side and I hit it."
Reibling's second goal with 15:41 left came on a long counter attack on which Alexander Zogg put Reibling in a one-on-one situation with the goalie.
NCHS, which outshot its guest 15-5, almost had two other goals as Kamoy Creary hit the right post in the first half and Kyle Byrd did likewise in the second half.
If any sequence summed up U High's day, it came with 3:26 left when NCHS goalie Matthew Wells guessed correctly to stop a penalty kick by Nathan Clay, who was trying for his 81st career goal.
"They have a powerhouse trio of attackers and they've got other dangerous guys, too," Chapman said. "I thought our defense was just terrific, especially in the first half. In the second half, I thought we controlled the ball a little more."
When asked where the Pioneers went wrong, Coach Jeremy Stanton said, "Every part of the game. Normal played great today. I'm not taking anything away from them, but ultimately we did not show up at all for this game. We didn't play with any heart, enthusiasm, anything."
Normal West, which also received a goal from Zach Bergeron, did all of its scoring in the first half and emptied its bench in the second half.
Unhappy about allowing 10 goals the previous four games, West coach Val Walker adjusted his defense and liked the result.
"My teams are never teams that give up a lot of goals," he said. "That was worrisome to me so we made some changes. We were a little bit more solid defensively."
Walker praised the work of defenders Delphy Sabu, Bergeron, Adam Conrad, Zach Poehlman, Brady Veal and Justin O'Brien. They protected goalie Jake Davis, who made two saves.
In the second half, West used Devin Beaty and Collin Willsey in goal.
"From what I saw in the first half, the first 20 minutes, that's kind of the way we want to be," Walker said. "We want to possess. We want to be good with the ball. If we lose it, we want to have good defensive shape."
BHS notched its second goal of the season when Merdy Ilonga scored in the second half.