Redhawks blank Patriots to return to state finals
By Curt Herron
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After focusing on a return trip to the state finals for a year, Naperville Central stated its case very clearly on Friday night.
And that spelled bad news for a Stevenson squad that was excited about making its initial state appearance in the program's history.
Central erupted for three goals during the opening half of its Class 3A semifinal to claim a 3-0 victory over the Patriots in Frankfort.
The win advances the Redhawks (23-1) to Saturday's 7:00 p.m. title match with Warren (20-5-3), which advanced with a 3-0 win over Carl Sandburg.
After falling 1-0 in overtime to Morton in last year's championship, coach Troy Adams' squad will try to do something that only two others have.
And that's follow up on a second-place finish with a large school championship, a feat done by Quincy Notre Dame (1985) and Collinsville (1986).
Pat Flynn, Jack Patrick and David Murphy each scored goals while Sam Reskala and Flynn handed out assists to lead the way for the winners.
Mike Pavliga recorded his squad's 16th shutout of the season behind defenders Connor Allen, Jack Burdett, Drake Swope and Ajay Varghese.
The Redhawks, who've won nine straight matches, have allowed one goal in the playoffs and now own clean sheets in seven of their last eight.
Warren, which lost to Morton in last year's semifinals and placed second in 2006, has scored 32 goals during its seven-match win streak.
"You play for this opportunity," Adams said. "We've talked as a group that there's the technical, the physical and also some luck.
"A lot of things have to happen in order to get to this point and then you want to be able to take the last step and finish it off.
"I know that their memories from last year will hold over so I don't need to remind them about it, so we'll come out ready to play."
Stevenson (18-5-1), enjoying its best postseason run ever under veteran coach Mark Schartner, entered with impressive credentials.
The Patriots had allowed only a dozen goals all season and All-State keeper Quintin Low helped his squad to record 16 shutouts.
But the Redhawks started to apply pressure to Low early on and moved in front for good in the tenth minute when Flynn connected.
Patrick's goal off of a pass by Reskala in the 15th minute was followed in the 28th minute by Murphy's tally off of a Flynn assist.
"Being back here gave us a huge boost and we came out and played great the first 25 minutes or so and some nice opportunities," Adams said.
"It's nice to see us really get after it during the first 10 to 15 minutes because that's been something that we've talked about a lot.
"When we do that, we're usually able to produce some goals. And when we struggle with that, it's the games that are kind of the nailbiters."
Thanks to the quick start, this would be no suspenseful contest, such as was the case in Tuesday's 1-0 super-sectional win over Edwardsville.
Central's first try was an Allen header off a Mike West free kick before Michael Weinstein attempted one of his team's three shots on goal.
The Redhawks took the lead after a Varghese throw in eventually found its way to Flynn, who lined a try that hit the crossbar and went in.
Flynn's goal was his 30th of the season and he later contributed his tenth assist. The senior has scored goals in 21 of his squad's matches.
Shortly after West was thwarted on a long free kick, Reskala found Patrick, who connected from distance to give Central a 2-0 advantage.
Following an exchange of tries by Flynn and Weinstein, the Redhawks went up 3-0 when Flynn sent a pass to Murphy, who made a short shot.
Not long after Murphy looked to be fouled in the box, West sent a corner kick to Patrick, whose header was stopped by the Patriot keeper.
"I know as a bench player that I have to bring a lot of energy when I come in," Murphy said. "I just try to contribute as much as I can.
"Just being able to play along with Pat up top is as much as I can ask for. He distributes the ball well and had the assist on my goal.
"Everyone has been gunning for us since we're one of the top teams in the state and we know that and it makes us practice even harder."
Owning a 3-0 halftime advantage, Central was able to focus on getting through the final 40 minutes without allowing Stevenson to score.
The Redhawks got shots on goal from Flynn, Corey Halford, Jordi Heeneman and Andrew Feightner during that span but Low denied each try.
Stevenson finished with a 10-7 edge in shots off the mark but Pavliga only had to stop one attempt after the break, from Joseph Hugener.
Needless to say, it was another outstanding defensive effort from a squad which has yielded just nine goals during the entire campaign.
"Once we get the lead, it makes my job as a defender a whole lot easier," Swope said. "Today we didn't have to worry about giving up a goal.
"We came out strong and strung a lot of passes together and found our forwards and they did the job by scoring three goals in the first half.
"Everyone on this team contributes and we really pride ourselves on defense and not giving up goals so we feel that we can win our next game."