It might have been the greatest comeback in the history of Evanston’s boys water polo program. And the fact that it came against arch-rival New Trier made the win even sweeter for the Wildkits.
Rafael de Gouvea poured in 3 goals in the final 3 minutes Friday night in the semifinals of the Glenbrook South Sectional tournament, including the game-winner with just 4 seconds remaining in regulation to send New Trier to the sidelines with a 5-4 defeat.
Coach Kevin Auger’s Wildkits, now 27-3 on the season, will meet top-seeded Loyola Academy at 10 a.m. Saturday in the championship game. Winner of that contest will advance to the Illinois High School Association state tournament.
With the Trevian defense focused on stopping ETHS leading scorers Luke Verrilli and Jacob Finn-Samuels, de Gouvea rose to the challenge as another scoring option after the Kits fell behind 4-2 with 3 minutes to play. He capitalized on a pair of “man up” situations, then converted the game winner as ETHS ran the shot clock down on its final possession.
“Our guys really wanted it tonight,” Auger praised. “They didn’t back down or start to doubt themselves even when we got down 4-2. That’s got to be our No. 1 comeback ever, because there was such a short time left to do it in.
“We got a kickout (New Trier ejection due to a foul) and took a timeout with 26 seconds left. I told them guys, the worst case scenario is if we don’t score, we go into overtime. We just didn’t want to give them the ball back.
“We passed the ball to Rafe in the corner on the other side, and he was waiting and shot it in. That was as perfect as we could get. He hasn’t been a big scorer for us, but Jacob and Luke drew the attention of their defense shot after shot, and we needed the other guys tonight.”
Auger’s team has built its school single season resume for victories on strong defensive play, making it even more difficult to switch gears on offense when the Kits fell behind.
“We had to transfer our focus a little more to the offense with about 3:15 left,” the coach explained. “I called a timeout and told them we’ve got to drive more instead of passing it around and shooting, so we could get some closer shots and some kickouts (ejections). Luke and Nate Perkoski both did a good job of driving and drawing those fouls.”
Grant King and Perkoski accounted for the other two ETHS goals, as Perkoski scored on a breakaway in the third quarter with goalie Henry Goodman picking up the assist on a 20-yard lob that led his teammate perfectly.
“Henry dropped in a perfect pass on him,” Auger said. “And he had to have at least 20 saves for us tonight. Good passes led to good shots for us tonight, and we’ll have to do even better Saturday when we play Loyola.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.