VALPARAISO | Nick Hathoot made the most of his new-found offensive opportunities Saturday night at Viking Arena.
The Valparaiso junior scored his first goal of the season, leading the Class 2A No. 7-ranked and host Vikings to a 2-0 win over Portage in the sectional championship.
Valparaiso (16-2) meets Munster at 5 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals of the Merrillville Regional.
An recent injury to defender Tommy Billings forced Valparaiso coach Danny Jeftich to switch up his lineup. Jeftich moved midfielder Luke Kovar to stopper, and Hathoot, normally a left wing back, moved up to center midfield.
"I felt comfortable playing there," Hathoot said. "I've played there on my club team."
Isaac Withrow raced down the left side and centered a pass to Hathoot inside the 18-yard line. Hathoot settled himself then sent a shot past Portage freshman goalie Dakota Simmons at 9:53 for the early 1-0 lead.
"I felt a defender behind me, so I stopped and he went by me," Hathoot said. "The goalie was going to his left, so I sent the ball the right."
Paul Henderson took advantage of mishandled shot attempt by Simmons to make it 2-0 against the Indians (9-8-1) with less than 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
The early scoring was a welcome sight to Jeftich. The Vikings scored with 35 seconds remaining Wednesday to edge Chesterton 1-0 in the semifinals. In the earlier meeting with Portage, the Vikings scored the lone goal in the 68th minute.
"I thought about it (Friday) and all day long (Saturday)," Jeftich said."We've got team speed, and I thought we could work some combinations to score a little earlier."
Paced by defender Chase Holford and goalie Ethan Lehnen, the Vikings registered their 11th shutout of the season. They've only allowed eight goals. Lehnen turned away Portage's best chance, quickly darting to snare a point blank shot from Logan Cole at 52:10.
"He's not that tall, but Ethan is very agile; he can get to corners and plays in the box," Jeftich said. "Chase is a rock back there; he's solid.
"Even without the second goal, I was confident with out defense."
Jeftich loves the depth on his squad and how different players have been able to step up all season.
"Steven Gerry (scored against Chesterton), then Nick does it (Saturday)," Jeftich said. "We have a lot of unsung heroes, and they help each other."