Adam Masters racked up a near-record 21 shutouts for Evanston’s boys soccer team this fall.
But even the best goalkeeper in the state of Illinois can’t stop what he can’t see.
A brilliant goal by Libertyville’s Nate Edmunds with 2 minutes, 52 seconds remaining in regulation play sent Masters and the Wildkits to the sidelines for the last time with a season-ending 1-0 loss to the Wildcats at the Class 3A Barrington Supersectional Tuesday night.
Libertyville (17-3-1) earned payback for a 1-0 regular season loss to ETHS and advanced to the Illinois High School Association state semifinals. Evanston ended one of the most improbable seasons in school history with a sterling 21-2-3 record, having surrendered just 5 goals for the entire year.
It was an improbable season because Masters was one of just four returning starters for head coach Franz Calixte. But the Wildkit coaching staff rebuilt the defense to the point that it was one of the most fundamentally sound units ever to play in front of any ETHS keeper, with seniors Henry Honzel, Zane Kashner and Henry Young doing most of the dirty work on defense, along with junior Josh Klier.
Ironically, Masters played one of the best games of his career, credited with a season-high 8 saves. But he’ll need to see the game film to get a better look at what turned out to be the last shot he’d ever face wearing an Evanston uniform.
Edmunds gained possession of the ball with Kashner applying pressure at about the 15-yard line as the clock ticked under 3 minutes and it appeared that this game wouldn’t be decided until overtime, or maybe even penalty kicks.
Instead, Edmunds feinted to his right with his back to the goal, then turned to the left and blasted a shot past a stunned Masters and into the back of the net.
“It was a point blank shot, and I really didn’t see it at all,” Masters admitted. “Libertyville’s the best team we’ve played this year, and it was just a great shot.”
“Against a quality team like Libertyville, you can’t allow them to turn and shoot from the top of the box like that. That’s something we had to close out, and we didn’t do it,” said acting head coach Fernando Ferrer. “We got them the first time — and they got us tonight.
“But we’re so very proud of these seniors and I think Franz deserves to be Coach of the Year, because it was his vision of a sound defensive structure that took us to where we are. At first I think we underestimated the talent we had and some of these guys really overachieved, too. It was a combination of both. We played solid defense all year and we had the best goalie in the state.
“All of these guys really stepped up this year. They almost set school and state records for shutouts and they made it over the sectional hump, and that was really a huge accomplishment. There are tears now, but when they’re able to look back at it, they’ll know they had a really great season.”
Masters refused to crack under constant pressure to pitch shutouts this season. Evanston’s offense really didn’t get into gear until the second half of the season, and the Kits played a total of eight 1-0 games this fall, not counting a pair of 0-0 ties, too.
The senior keeper came into most games knowing one lapse on his part might result in a loss, but he rose to the occasion every time out.
He embraced the pressure, instead of letting it get the best of him.
“Yeah, we relied a lot on having to get shutouts this year, but that was our system. I felt a lot on my shoulders every game, but our defense and our midfielders did the job every time out,” Masters said. “I just did what I had to do, but I really didn’t have to do that much.
“The whole team had confidence in me and I’d have been happy to get to overtime or penalty kicks tonight, even though that would have been more pressure. But we couldn’t get there.”
Masters turned in a strong individual performance as the Kits attempted to match the ETHS school record of 22 shutouts set by the 1995 squad. They came up two shutouts short of the Illinois state record.
Masters’ best stop of the night came in the 60th minute when Libertyville’s Ryan Wittenbrink slipped almost completely behind the ETHS defense and uncorked a laser shot from close in. But Masters, with a dive to his right, chalked up the save and preserved the scoreless tie.
Evanston’s best opportunity to score in the first half came on a restart in the with 16 minutes to play, when Libertyville keeper Brant Kym denied Christyan De La Cruz.
Erick Balthazar had a chance similar to his teammate’s at the 59 minute mark of the game, but his shot sailed high. Evanston only put three shots on goal for the entire contest.
Source: ETHS Sports Information