WENTZVILLE — JT Grabowski played the last part of his freshman season on the varsity pitch and that experience is already paying dividends this season for the Francis Howell North boys soccer team.
The sophomore forward notched a pair of goals for the Knights last season and matched that in a span of 12 minutes and 56 seconds Wednesday night to help lead his team to a 2-1 win over North Point in a nonconference road game at the area's newest high school.
“I played for like half the season,” Grabowski said. “It was fun and it was good to experience it. It gave me some confidence for this season.”
Howell North improved to 2-1-1 on the young season ahead of a tough matchup against unbeaten CBC on Thursday and Grabowski has been a big reason why, tying for the team lead with five points through four games.
“I think that bringing him up last year as a freshman he got his feet wet and was able to build some confidence,” Knights coach Larry Scheller said. “He was able to sneak in a couple goals last year and that's always important. When you step out on to a field that you're familiar with being on varsity, that helps out a ton.”
North Point (1-1) had a scary moment with just less than 16 minutes left in the first half when freshman forward Alex Lacke went down with a leg injury and had to leave the field via a golf cart.
Lacke, who scored all three of the Grizzlies' goals in their season-opening 3-0 win over St. Charles West one week ago, sat out the rest of the first half but did take the field to start the second half and played all of the final 40 minutes.
“I think the first thought when you see someone go down you always worry about the ACL because I've gone through that,” North Point coach Greg Schroeder said. “After that, it becomes is he ready and can you throw him back in. We're a really, really small program with two levels. We've committed to a varsity schedule and we have like 31 kids in the whole program. So, part of it is that, too, looking at numbers to see if you can survive injuries.”
The Knights got the first goal just 2 minutes and 37 seconds into the second half when Grabowski beat Grizzlies goalkeeper Caden Hof to a 50-50 ball about 10 yards outside the goal and moved around him to tap it into the open net for his first goal of the season.
Grabowski struck again just under 13 minutes later, as Hunter Shoulta corralled a clearing attempt along the far sideline and sent a long left-footer into the box, where Grabowski was there to re-direct it in with the outside of his right foot from close in.
“That was perfect (by Shoulta), so I just had to touch it in,” Grabowski said. “It was crucial.”
Two and a half minutes after Hof made a brilliant stop on a point-blank shot by Peyton Caples with 18:30 remaining, Grabowski nearly had the natural hat trick as the ball found him deep inside the box, but he could never get a good, clean shot off on the ensuing scrum and Hof smothered it.
North Point didn't generate a lot of scoring opportunities but finally caught a break when Lacke was hauled down in the box and subsequently converted a penalty kick to cut the Grizzlies' deficit to 2-1 with 9:20 left to play.
“He doesn't look like a freshman when he plays. He's got a little bit of swagger and physical ability as well,” Schroeder said. “After their second goal, we responded well. We looked like a very young team until the second goal. I was proud of the effort in making them think the last 10-15 minutes and making them work for it.”
North Point had a chance to tie it with four minutes left on their own 50-50 ball in the box, but Stover beat Gavin Wicklund to smother it and put a lid on the Grizzlies' final opportunity at an equalizer.
“Obviously at the end of the game, it's always gonna be hairy when you're up a couple goals and then they get that PK and get a little bit of life back,” Scheller said. “You hope that you can hang on and I thought we did a pretty decent job of winning the balls we needed to win and trying to get the ball out.”