Butler’s Braden Van Allen gets 1st start in win over hometown team

Joel Harvey Butler vs Evansville

Photo credit: Trevor Ruszkowski

INDIANAPOLIS — Taking the pitch for the first time as a member of the starting 11 can sometimes feel as unnerving as it is exhilarating. Toss in some extra emotional appeal, and it’s the recipe for a highly stressful situation.

Making his first start for the Butler Bulldogs against his hometown team, redshirt sophomore Braden Van Allen delivered a confident and steady performance in helping Butler to a 1-0 win over the Evansville Purple Aces Tuesday night at the Sellick Bowl. The Evansville native played at North High School and also for Evansville Soccer Club.

Van Allen didn’t receive heavy minutes after starting, finishing with 63, but turned in a workmanlike shift on both sides of the ball. Senior goalkeeper Eric Dick also returned from a one-game absence due to illness to come up big for the Bulldogs.

A beautiful combination play at the edge of the box put Butler up early — and permanently. Midfielder Eric Leonard and sophomore forward Brandon Guhl linked up for a cheeky one-two pass in behind the defense to freshman midfielder Joel Harvey, who calmly nutmegged Evansville goalkeeper Frederik Reimer. The goal was the first of Harvey’s collegiate career.

Butler vs. Evansville

Photo credit: Trevor Ruszkowski

For the Purple Aces, junior midfielder Ian McGrath definitely made his presence felt. The 6-4 beast handled much of the dirty work in the midfield, and also nearly got himself on the scoresheet. McGrath’s diving header attempt from six yards out toward the end of the first half required a stellar save by Dick. The header would’ve brought the Purple Aces level and might’ve changed the complexion of the match had it found twine.

Evansville’s entire squad boasts quite a bit of size, with 11 players listed at 6-0 or taller. The visitors used their brawn to clog passing lanes in the defensive third, but weren’t necessarily as physical as they could’ve been to maximize their advantage. The Purple Aces came agonizingly close to equalizing in the 87th minute and again in the 89th, but Dick made two diving saves to preserve the clean sheet, and — more importantly — the victory.

Dick was probably the front runner for man of the match honors, but did leave the crowd gasping multiple times by leaving the box to play the ball in traffic. In the end, those gasps of uncertainty turned to shrieks of awe as the towering 6-5 ‘keeper made clutch save after clutch save down the stretch.

Evansville vs Butler

Photo credit: Trevor Ruszkowski

As for Van Allen, his inclusion in the starting 11 and quality shift will serve as building blocks while he continues growing into a larger role. He transferred to Butler after being redshirted at Virginia Commonwealth in 2015, then only appeared in one game for the Bulldogs in 2016.

Butler (4-2) will begin Big East play with a stern test Saturday at home against Creighton.

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Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KJboxing.

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