Redhawks earn second straight trip to state finals
By Curt Herron
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A year ago, a darkhorse Naperville Central squad headed to the Class 3A Normal Community Super-Sectional trying to make some history.
The Redhawks did that by beating Quincy 2-0 to advance to state for only the second time in their history, and first trip since 1988.
That unexpected run through the playoffs ended the following weekend with an overtime loss to Morton in the state championship match.
On Tuesday, the state's favorite in this year's Class 3A field made a return trip to Normal to try to achieve another program first.
Thanks to a long liner from Jay Tegge in the 20th minute and their 15th shutout of the season, the Redhawks pulled off another feat.
Central assured itself of consecutive state appearances for the first time in its history following a 1-0 victory over Edwardsville.
The win was the eighth straight for the 22-1 Redhawks and it halted a recent 9-0-1 run by the Tigers, who closed with a 17-5-2 mark.
Edwardsville, another defensive-minded squad who entered with 12 shutouts, fell a win shy of claiming a fourth trophy in five years.
Instead, Central gets to look forward to the opportunity to improve upon last year's second-place showing at this weekend's finals.
The Redhawks meet Stevenson on Friday at 7 p.m. at Lincoln-Way North in Frankfort. The Patriots beat Glenbrook North 2-0 on Tuesday.
If it prevails in the semifinals, Central advances to Saturday's 7 p.m. championship match against either Carl Sandburg or Warren.
Things didn't come easily for the Redhawks against Mark Heiderscheid's Metro East side, which was no surprise to coach Troy Adams.
"When you play a team that works as hard as they do, you don't always have the rhythm or flow that you want," the Redhawk coach said.
"That's because it's very hard to connect and link passes. We had sequences where we were on but then they would break things up.
"There was a strong wind at the start, but it died down toward the end of the first half. It wasn't such a bad evening for late October."
What made the evening even better for the Redhawks was the fact that they again got great efforts from players all over the pitch.
Keeper Mike Pavliga wasn't challenged often thanks in part to defenders Connor Allen, Jack Burdett, Drake Swope and Ajay Varghese.
While scoring leader Pat Flynn was held without a goal for just the third time this season, Tegge once again connected in Normal.
Of the eight goals that the junior has recorded in the past two seasons, two have come on this field in super-sectional matches.
"The guys are playing well," Adams said. "You can see in practice how much they really enjoy being around each other. Some of our toughest games have been in practice.
"Our defense really starts up top with Pat and Jordi Heeneman and David Murphy because of the amount of work they put in causes the defense to have to play balls that they don't want to play.
"That means that our mids and backs get the ball and we can start possessing it and working it down the field. And our back four is playing at their best right now, which is what we expected."
The Redhawks coach obviously is pleased with where his squad is at now and believes that his players are focused on their goals.
"This is a very dedicated group," Adams said. "We've worked hard as coaches to make sure about what our goals are and what we want to accomplish in a game or half.
"When you get a bunch of kids who are willing to buy into it and do that as a group, in addition to being skilled, then you have a nice combination, and that's what the guys have done.
"As soon as we made the bus ride home last year from the finals, the guys said they wanted to make this bus ride again and to come back happy. We have the chance to get back to where we want to be."
Although it had a strong wind at its back at the outset, Central struggled against a Tiger defense led by All-Stater Tyler Postol.
Edwardsville actually got the first scoring chance, when Frank Verdu was tripped up just outside of the box in the sixth minute.
But as Landon Paul sent the free kick toward the net, Pavliga came out of the goal to shut things down before a shot could be had.
A few minutes later, Pavliga sent a free kick in from midfield that went to Allen, but his header went a bit wide of the mark.
Then Varghese saw an attempt cleared and a header by Flynn off of a pass from Swope was denied as Central kept up the pressure.
After a corner kick from Brent Heinlein was cleared by Jack Patrick, a Mike West free kick led to a Flynn header that was wide.
That set the table for Tegge's goal, which came just a second before the opening half's midpoint and changed the match dynamics.
Tegge's attempt, from perhaps a third of the field away, whistled past keeper Brandon Baker, who could do little but watch it.
"I also scored on this field last year in the super-sectional as a sophomore, so I guess this is my lucky field," Tegge said. "We had the wind at our back and wanted to test their goalie and I was able to hit a good shot.
"Our defense has been unbelievable with all the new players back there. And our lineup is very deep and we're able to bring in new players and keep the tempo up and that's been part of the reason why we've been successful.
"It's huge for our program to get to state again and we're excited to be back. Our coach has done a good job of keeping us modest and honest. Getting back to the finals is the driving force that's kept us focused."
After Tegge's goal, the Redhawks looked like they might connect again as they kept up steady pressure against the Tiger keeper.
Patrick was thwarted on a pair of attempts, beginning with a header that followed a West corner kick and then on a line drive.
Pavliga halted a Hayden Hessler try before Allen had a shot deflected and Michael Marchionna was denied off Flynn free kicks.
It was more of the same after the break, as Tegge got off an early try and Jordi Heeneman sent a liner just wide of the mark.
Central had a flurry of activity before the second half's midway mark, starting with a header and then a wide shot by Patrick.
After Heeneman was a bit off the mark, West was thwarted on a header and Devon Amoo-Mensah sent an attempt just over the net.
Edwardsville nearly got the equalizer in the 63rd minute when Hessler sent in a long liner that bounced off of the crossbar.
The Redhawks responded with a wide header by Flynn, a long try by Allen and a Flynn free kick lined over the top of the frame.
Allen was denied on a long free kick and then Patrick cleared a corner kick from Paul a few minutes before the final whistle.
Central's defense has allowed just one goal in its last seven matches and only given up nine goals during the entire season.
"Coach talks a lot about defensive intensity and we really displayed that in this game as well as all through the state tournament," Burdett said. "Jay scored on a great shot and then we were able to shut them down.
"Even though we're a new defense, a lot of us play defense on our club teams. Our program prepares us to be on the varsity and we've also gotten to know each other really well and that's why we connect on the field.
"Last year we weren't expected to get to the state finals but this year we've been working toward that. It's a big accomplishment to get there again. Everthing's going great and we're looking forward to this weekend."