When Quinn Ackman switched midfield positions late in the soccer season for Evanston, the senior’s focus changed from offense to defense.

But he didn’t forget how to score.

Ackman’s penalty kick with 7 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in regulation lifted the Wildkits into the Class 3A Evanston Sectional championship game with a 2-1 triumph over No. 2 seed Glenbrook South Wednesday night.

Ackman also earned an assist on Evanston’s other goal as the Wildkits, now 17-5-2, advanced to the title contest for the fourth straight year. They’ll meet Saint Patrick (23-3), which knocked off top-seeded New Trier 3-0 in the other sectional semifinal.

“This one was scary,” admitted ETHS head coach Franz Calixte, especially after a shot by GBS star Jimmy McMahon slipped through the hands of goalie Ramin Abraham — but was wide of the goal — in the final 4 seconds. “GBS always matches up really well with us. This was one tough matchup. We bent, but we didn’t break.”

The two teams, after tying 1-1 during the regular season meeting, were tied again at 1-all after McMahon’s pass to teammate Justin Leszynski knotted the score in the 69th minute. It was the first goal the Wildkits had surrendered in their last 5 games.

Four minutes later, however, Kit forward Will Weinman was tackled in the box by GBS’ Gavin Morse, creating a restart for Ackman. He buried the penalty shot in the lower right corner for what turned out to be the game-winner.

Ackman said he didn’t feel pressure despite the implications of a potential season ending (and career ending) loss if he missed the kick. He’s been the No. 1 option in PK situations all year after earning the “job” early in the season.

“That’s the fourth one I’ve made this year, so I really felt pretty comfortable in that situation,” he said. “Lately we’ve been practicing PKs every day for 10 or 15 minutes at the end of practice, too, so I felt ready. I was very happy to see that goal (foul against Weinman) because, to me, basically that’s a free goal at this point.

“We really brought it today. We knew that if a team as good as New Trier could go down, then so could we.  We weren’t going to let that happen. I’ve really embraced the position change (from holding midfielder to center back) and my goal now  is to defend first and keep the ball out of the net. We’ve had four clean sheets (shutouts) in a row before tonight, so that’s pretty good.”

Besides the PK, Ackman is also handling many of the free kick situations ETHS earns over the course of games. His spot-on boot from the GBS 20-yard line resulted in a goal when South keeper Christian Noordover leaped high to deflect the shot, the ball glanced off the crossbar and dropped straight down.

With Noordover out of the play, Evanston junior Frank Berkley knocked the rebound into the back of the net for the first score of the game in the 46th minute.

Ackman wasn’t the only hero wearing an Evanston uniform Wednesday night. Abraham, in his second straight postseason start in goal, stopped 10 shots and sophomore defender Eric Cyiza helped keep South’s McMahon in check.

“Tonight was the first goal we’ve conceded since we put Quinn at center back. He’s hit those free kicks consistently for us, and that PK was really clutch,” Calixte pointed out. “I thought Eric did a fantastic job for us. He’s not playing like a sophomore and he’s done a fantastic job the past few games. The center backs are really starting to get it when it comes to their positioning and spacing back there.”

 St. Patrick, the No. 4 seed, moved up to Class 3A from 2A after placing fourth in the Illinois High School Association 2A state tournament last year. Winner of Saturday’s game will face either Libertyville or Mundelein at the Barrington Supersectional.

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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