Evanston soccer coach Franz Calixte suggested that maybe his team gave top-seeded Saint Patrick TOO much respect Friday night.
Senior co-captain Quinn Ackman agreed. But hindsight is always a 20-20 view when a team is assessing a season-ending defeat.
Evanston dialed up more pressure in the second half but suffered a 2-1 loss to the Shamrocks in the Class 3A sectional championship game at Glenbrook South. Junior forward Joshua Torres scored the game-winner in the 67th minute, ending Evanston’s stellar season at 18-2-2.
Saint Patrick, which defeated the Wildkits by the same score last year in the title game in overtime, will advance to the Barrington Supersectional with a 24-2-3 record.
Evanston dominated the second half after trailing 1-0 at the intermission on a penalty kick by Aaron Moreno-Lopez, but one costly defensive breakdown gave Torres an opening after the third-seeded Kits had tied the contest 1-1 on a rebound goal by senior Morais Lee in the 61st minute.
With one defender slipping to the turf, Torres powered a shot past Evanston goalie Hector Mendoza --- subbing for the injured Daniel Linder --- and the clock ran out on the Wildkits in their 7th straight trip to the sectional finals.
Wary of the Shamrocks’ overall team speed, Calixte chose to play conservatively in the first half to make sure no one got behind the ETHS defense. And the strategy worked --- to a degree. But the Wildkits weren’t really themselves until the second half in the matchup of two high-powered offensive teams.
“We wanted to go, go, go in the second half and we did that. But maybe we should’ve turned it on a little earlier,” Calixte conceded. “When we went to our high pressure, we had them back on their heels in that second half.
“Our kids tried hard, but that’s a tough team. I knew if we could guard them and keep it 0-0, then we’d have a chance at the end, so we were even more compact and played with lower pressure in the first half. But they still found ways to get (scoring) chances. And that No. 21 (Torres), all he needs is one chance.”
“When you have to play a lotta defense, like we did in the first half, it can take a toll on your legs. But we still had energy and we still got to spots we wanted to get to in the second half. We just didn’t convert our chances,” said Ackman, who saw his season end without a trip to the state’s Final Four for the third year in a row.
“We gave them a lot of room in the first half, playing off of them, and let them control the pace. Maybe we should’ve trusted in ourselves more, and come out more aggressive.
“When we played together every day in the off-season we talked about having the goal of getting past this point (and to the Final Four) this year. It hurts a lot more to lose it this time.”
The Shamrocks, who poured in 7 goals in a sectional semifinal victory over Glenbrook North, had difficulty against a patient defense led by Frank Berkley, Ackman and Teo Collantes Cook. And the first goal the winners tallied resembled a “dive” that is still all-too-common in the sport, where it appeared that Torres tripped over the turf and wasn’t touched by an ETHS player. But the ruling went against the Wildkits and Moreno-Lopez booted the PK high into the right corner of the net, beating Mendoza.
Mendoza, a backup most of his career, was the next man up in the net when it was discovered that Linder played the entire semifinal game against New Trier (7 saves) with a fractured finger that will require surgery next week.
After a shaky start handling the ball, however, Mendoza got stronger as the game progressed and finished with a total of 5 saves while also neutralizing several other plays to prevent actual shots on goal.
“Hector came in for Daniel and he didn’t miss a beat. He came up big, I thought he really stepped up,” Calixte praised.
Evanston’s only goal came on an offensive flurry midway through the second half. Senior midfielder Eric Cyiza created a corner kick opportunity with his run to the goal, and after Dylan Kimball’s boot bounced off the head of freshman Martin Torres-Moreno, Lee was on the spot and hammered home the rebound try.
The losers, however, only put one more shot on goal, an effort by Dylan Taglang that St. Pat keeper Jorge Cebrero easily handled with approximately 3 minutes left in regulation.
“I thought this was the group that was going to get us over the hump (and to the state finals),” Calixte sighed. “You look at their record and these guys really were winners. This was a special class and if you asked them right now, they’d probably tell you that they under-achieved this year.
“They thought they’d win their last game. We had a good run this year --- a very good run.”