Boys Soccer: Salinas returns as Hubs dominate Ottawa

Senior defender leads shutout effort as Rochelle opens Interstate 8 tournament with 10-0 win

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ROCHELLE — Damian Salinas has seen anything but a smooth ride throughout his senior season with the Rochelle Hub varsity soccer team. A four-year varsity defender, Salinas saw nearly his whole season erased due to a family emergency and then COVID-19 quarantine protocols.

Monday was a different story, however, with Salinas returning to the Hubs and making his season debut in time for Rochelle to open the Interstate 8 Conference tournament with a dominant 10-0 victory against the Ottawa Pirates. The third-seeded Hubs will advance to the semifinal round on Wednesday, when Rochelle will face Sycamore on the road at 4:30 p.m.

“It felt really good to be out there,” Salinas said. “I went through some rough times when I wasn’t playing, but it was really great to be back with team. We know Sycamore will give us a pretty good match, but as a team, I know we can beat them because I think we have a good team as well. We passed the ball really well today and we communicated really well.”

Starting at his center back position, Salinas helped the Hubs (5-4-1) to their third shutout win of the season. Rochelle broke the scoring open during the fourth minute on Monday, when senior Josh Hurtado received an inside pass from sophomore Jace Whitehead and canned the shot from just outside the Ottawa box. Freshmen Diego Salazar and Eli Luxton connected for another goal in the 18th minute, with Salazar finding Luxton to put Rochelle ahead 2-0.

“It was good to see Damian come back and show the same form he did last season,” head coach Brad Male said. “I thought he keyed some of our ball movement today because we weren’t afraid to move the ball to our back line, which helped us on the offensive end. Having Damian back there helps us move Jace forward and into an attacking position”

While Salinas returning was one storyline, Rochelle’s freshmen took over the match Monday evening, with Luxton and Salazar each netting hat tricks in the Hub victory. Luxton pulled the Hubs ahead 3-0 with a goal on an assist from senior Zane Walters in the 24th minute, while junior Caleb Ritter added another highlight moments later, dribbling down the right sideline and scoring an unassisted goal during the 29th minute for his first score of the season.

Leading 4-0 at halftime and with Ottawa showing no ability to clear the ball, Rochelle continued pouring on the pressure in the second half. Senior Juan Cincire collected a pair of assists during the 45th and 47th minutes, feeding Luxton and Salazar to give the Hubs a 6-0 advantage. A short time after Luxton completed his hat trick, Salazar netted his second goal of the match in the 53rd minutes, converting a right-footed cross from sophomore Jared Montano.

With a 7-0 lead, Salazar stayed on the attack at the left forward position, cashing in an assist from Whitehead during the 61st minute for his hat trick. Rochelle closed the match out with two goals in the final two minutes including an unassisted score from Walters and a shot from Whitehead that found the Ottawa net with only 8.1 seconds remaining in regulation.