PEORIA – Western Illinois freshman Drew Whalen enjoyed a triumph return to his hometown, scoring his first two collegiate goals, including the game-winner in the 54th minute, leading the Leathernecks (3-8-0) to a 4-2 win at Bradley (5-4-1) Monday night at Shea Stadium.
Bradley finished the game with a 30-10 advantage in shots and missed on several great chances, but the Leathernecks got eight saves from keeper Yves Dietrich and two more from defenders to deal the Braves their second straight home loss. Bradley dropped a 1-0 decision to then No. 6 Cal State Fullerton in its last home game Sept. 28, before going out on the road to earn a 3-2, overtime win at then No. 3 Northwestern Wednesday night, its second road win against a top three team this season.
It appeared the Braves would carry over the momentum of Wednesday’s win at Northwestern when sophomore defender Grant Bell scored just 6:32 into the game, finishing a run through the center of the park for his second goal of the year. But Whalen turned the momentum with a stunning goal, diving through the 6-yard box to redirect a Sammuel Worsley shot from distance and heading home his first career goal at 38:03.
Whalen, a graduate of Peoria Notre Dame High School, located just three miles from Shea Stadium, help set up another WIU goal less than four mintues later when he fed Jupic Husref for a run into the left side of the Bradley defensive zone. Husref was taken down by Bradley defender Joe Morales just inside the penalty area to draw a penalty kick, then deposited the PK himself inside the left post for a 2-1 lead at 42:48.
The PND connection struck again as the first-half clock was winding down, this time benefitting the Braves. After Dietrich mis-hit a goal kick with less than 10 seconds remaining in the half, Wojciech Wojcik started a Bradley counter by feeding Jason Lesch, who slipped the ball to Alex Garcia on the left side of the penalty area. Garcia, Whalen’s teammate at PND, beat Deitrich with a top shelf rocket for his first career goal at 44:58.
Unfazed by the turn of events at the end of the half, Western Illinois reclaimed the lead in the 54th minute when Whalen buried a third chance opportunity from a tough angle from near the left endline to just inside the right post at 53:36. The goal was set up after Bradley keeper Brian Billings made a great save of a Mario Alvarez rocket to the top left corner of the frame, but the loose ball fell to Whalen.
The Leathernecks got an important insurance goal in the 60th minute when Jacob Bevan knocked home a loose ball in the box off a corner kick service from Diego Gonzalez at 59:01.
From there, the Leathernecks had to hold off a constant Bradley attack. Bradley outshot Western Illinois 17-0, with a 6-0 advantage in cornerkicks, in the final 30 minutes. Alon Badat appeared close to pulling one goal back just 1:03 after the fourth WIU goal, claiming his shot crossed the goal line before being blocked by a Leathernecks defender. Tyler Davis followed with a blast from 12 yards out at 62:37 that was ticketed for the net, but another Leathernecks defender managed to block the shot from inside the 6-yard box.
The Braves, who also hit the post with a shot in the first half, had two more great looks in the 72nd minute when Aaron Birk got a 1-v-1 chance against Dietrich from close range, but the Leathernecks keeper came through with the stop and quickly recovered to gobble up a header from Bell on the same flurry.
Bradley will need to bounce back quickly as the Braves open their Missouri Valley Conference schedule Saturday with a noon kickoff at Central Arkansas. The Braves, who went 0-1-1 in back-to-back home games against UCA to end the 2012 campaign, are 5-2-1 away from home so far this year.