Saint Patrick’s soccer team proved Saturday that they could play with the big boys.
And they proved it at Evanston’s expense.
The Shamrocks, who moved up from Class 2A to Class 3A this season, scored a 2-1 overtime victory over the host Wildkits at the Evanston Sectional tournament and snapped Evanston’s string of sectional championships at 3 in a row.
A rebound goal by Luis Saucedo just 25 seconds into the first overtime period held up as the winning tally despite a furious rally by the hosts in the waning moments of the second OT. St. Patrick (24-3), the fourth place state finisher in Class 2A last year, will advance to the Barrington Supersectional for a matchup against nationally-ranked Libertyville.
Saucedo’s goal ended the high school careers of 13 ETHS seniors and sent the Wildkits to the sidelines with a final record of 17-6-2.
“This is a tough one to take. But this is the playoffs, and someone has to win and someone has to lose,” said ETHS head coach Franz Calixte. “We say all the time that soccer can be a cruel game and we know it’s not easy to win a sectional. I don’t know if there’s any other sectional as deep (in talent) as this one every year, and now they’ve added St. Pat. They’re a solid team, but if I could recruit like they do, I’d like to see where we’d be. We get kids from our own community, not from all over like they do. I don’t think the best team won tonight.
“This was a valiant effort by our guys tonight. You’ve got to put away the chances you get, and we didn’t do that. But we didn’t give up, right until the very end, and this is a group of fighters. I didn’t even think the game would go to overtime (after the Shamrocks tied the score in the 29th minute) because I thought sure we’d come through in the last 9 minutes of the second half.
“But it wasn’t meant to be.”
Senior defender Luke Agnew helped create the only score by the Wildkits midway through the first half, when he pushed up to an open space, dribbled in on the right side and fed a perfect pass to classmate Reed Hurtig. Hurtig’s one-touch shot found the back of the net with 19 minutes, 12 seconds left in the first half.
That turned out to be Evanston’s last goal of the season. St. Pat pulled even when a restart from way out at the 40-yard line by the Shamrocks’ Aaron Moreno-Lopez skittered through the hands of Wildkit keeper Ramin Abraham (13 saves).
The losers weren’t able to maintain their high level of play in the first half, but did put together a strong surge with time running out in the second overtime.
Evanston’s best opportunity came with about 3 minutes left in the 2018 campaign. Hurtig won a 50-50 ball with his head and knocked a pass to captain Ben Sollinger in the left corner. Sollinger’s return cross to the middle momentarily seemed headed for an open teammate, Ndu Nkurunziza, but St. Patrick goalie Jorge Cebrero won the race to the ball and Nkurunziza never had a chance to shoot.
Quinn Ackman’s restart from just outside the 10 sailed too high a couple of minutes later, and Sollinger drilled a shot off the goal post from a tough angle with 10 seconds left on the clock to end a final flurry.
Although they didn’t take the next tournament step, the Wildkits did win two more games than they did a year ago. Calixte utilized a different starting lineup almost every week because of the depth of talent in the program.
“I thought we got kinda complacent at one point during the (regular) season,” said the veteran coach. “We lost a couple of games that we shouldn’t have lost, and that’s when they started to realize they had to work for everything. They started coming together at that point, and I really thought we were peaking at the right time.”