Johnny Trujillo scored one goal for Evanston’s soccer team during the regular season. But ever since the ETHS coaching staff decided to insert the senior midfielder into the starting lineup — because of his defense — he’s been Johnny on the spot.
Trujillo scored the game-winning goal for the second game in a row Saturday and lifted the Wildkits to a 3-2 victory over top-seeded Glenbrook North in the championship game at the Class 3A New Trier Sectional tournament.
Trujillo’s tally in the 71st minute helped the Wildkits make school history while also advancing to the Barrington Supersectional, where they’ll take on Libertyville at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Winner of that contest will advance to the Final Four.
Evanston, now 15-4-4 on the season, earned a record third straight sectional championship for the program. And it’s a program steeped in tradition, including five state runnerup finishes, but none of those powerhouse teams can match the current squad’s accomplishments.
The Wildkits knocked out GBN in the title match for the second year in a row as the Spartans concluded a 19-4-1 season, one of the best in their school history. The back-to-back wins over New Trier and GBN reinforced the Wildkits’ belief that those three straight sectional crowns have come against some of the toughest competition in the state of Illinois.
No other team has to run that kind of gauntlet every year just to make it to a supersectional.
“You’d have to say this is 1 of the 2 toughest sectionals in the state every year, because the other sectional that feeds into ours, the other team has beaten us the last two years,” Calixte pointed out. “We had to get past two really tough teams this year, and it’s that way every year.
“GBN is a juggernaut. It might be the best team they’ve ever had, and that’s the sad thing about this. We’re moving forward but I have so much respect for their coach (Paul Vignocchi) and their players. Now we have to go on and face the No. 1 team in the country — but we feel good about it!
“I’m so thrilled about the way our guys stuck to the game plan and played for each other again today. I just can’t believe it! At the end of the season the one word we stressed was “discipline” in everything we do from then on. Now we’re playing with more discipline and they believe in it. We incorporated it in our game plan (for postseason play) and, even though this is an attacking-type of team, they bought in to the plan to hold back and wait for our opportunities.”
Opportunity knocked again for Trujillo Saturday after he scored what turned out to be the winning goal in a 3-2 win over New Trier in the semifinals.
A throw-in from teammate Miguel Jimenez bounced off the heads of two different North defenders, before Trujillo pounced on the ball and drilled it past GBN keeper Daniel Spencer with 9 minutes, 31 seconds remaining in regulation play.
“I knew it was do or die today, and as a senior I wasn’t going to go out,” Trujillo said. “I saw the Glenbrook North guy flick the ball and it came right to me, so I saw the shot and I took it.
“I know I’m playing more because the coaches think I’m a good defensive player. But I feel like I attack more and when I have the time, I go after it. It just feels so good to win the sectional. When I saw the time going down (on the clock) in the last 30 seconds, I was almost crying because I wanted it so bad.”
“Johnny wasn’t even on the varsity team last year, so that shows you just how deep our program is,” said Calixte. “He has a mindset to play offense and he plays great defense, too. That’s a positive for us.”
After falling behind 1-0, the Kits regained momentum to take a 2-1 advantage on a penalty kick by Jimenez and a goal by Colin Thompson off a perfect feed from Trujillo. The Spartans, however, countered with a goal by Sahil Modi when he burst through the ETHS defense to knot the score with 4:53 left in the first half.
It was the last goal the Spartans scored this season. Evanston goalie Gavin Rosengarten chalked up 7 saves in the second half, never buckling under the constant pressure put on by the losers.
And junior defender Ben Sollinger, just back in the lineup after he broke his wrist, played perhaps his best game on the back line to keep the Kits’ season alive.
“We had a target on our backs with both teams (after eliminating New Trier and GBN from postseason play a year ago) and we knew what we had to do,” Sollinger said. “Winning this sectional just means everything to me. It’s indescribable what it feels like to come back in here and win it again.
“It was only 50-50 with the injury that I could come back and play this year. It was iffy, but I knew if I did what I needed to do — I worked overtime with my physical therapist —I knew I could do it.
“Winning three in a row means a whole lot to us. We always have alums coming back and telling us what it means to wear that (Evanston) jersey and I’ve never taken that for granted. That helped us push through and get us to where we are now.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.