Warriors to face host Rockets for sectional title
By Curt Herron
When a squad faces a team that's staged playoff upsets, the best thing that it can do is to quickly establish control in their matchup.
And that's exactly what Wheaton Academy did on Tuesday when it faced upstart Belvidere in the Class 2A Central Sectional in Burlington.
The Warriors moved in front for good less than 10 minutes in and added three more scores before the match's first half hour had elapsed.
Wheaton Academy carried that momentum into the final half and cut nine minutes off the contest before claiming a 7-0 win over the Bucs.
As a result of its ninth straight victory, WA (20-3-1) advances to Friday's 6 p.m. championship match, where it faces the host Rockets.
Coach Jeff Brooke's Warriors will trying to capture their second straight sectional title and also the sixth in the program's history.
This marks the fourth time during Brooke's six-year tenure as WA's coach that his program will be playing for a sectional championship.
Meanwhile, Central (22-2), who beat Freeport 2-0 on Tuesday, will try to win its second sectional title, with the other coming in 2010.
The winner of Friday's title match moves on to Tuesday's DeKalb Super-Sectional, where they'll meet either Peoria Notre Dame or Morton.
"Central is having a great year so we have a lot of respect for them," Brooke said. "At the same time, we'll be prepared and ready for Friday night. It's a sectional final game and hopefully there's a big crowd and it will be good for high school soccer.
"Obviously from our perspective, we've set some goals that we're trying to accomplish and we're going to work to meet those as best as we can. I think that our guys have an understanding of what playoff soccer is all about and I appreciate how they've approached the last three games.
"We got to host the sectional final last year, so we had that advantage. Obviously Central has that this year so it will be our job to try to put our style together and display it on this field and we'll try to do that."
The Warriors received contributions from many different players as they collected five or more goals for the eighth time this season.
Matthew Ruff and Ty Seager scored two goals apiece while Sam Hardy, Grant Rougas and Reid Culberson chipped in with the other tallies.
Casey Zimmerman, Marshall West, Jacob Fernandes and Hardy contributed assists for the winners, who owned a 4-0 advantage at the break.
Drew Sezonov posted the squad's 13th shutout while Daniel Bergquist, Hunter Finnegan, Parker Setran and West led the way on defense.
Four-year performer Zeb Lewis was announced in the starting lineup but a bad bounce of a ball during warmups kept him on the bench.
"I was proud that the guys came into the game the way that they did," Brooke said. "They were mentally engaged and listened to our instructions during training sessions. So to come out here and to play well at a beautiful facility obviously gives us momentum as we move forward.
"It's great to have everyone locked into what we're doing, especially at this time of the year. And we have an understanding of what we're trying to do with the ball when we have po0ssession and we're trying to move into the attack.
"I was proud of the way that some guys came off of the bench tonight. I thought that they made us better, and a couple of them found the net, as well, which is always enjoyable for the group."
Belvidere was just 7-16 entering the playoffs but upset top-seed Harvard and then defeated Hampshire to claim its own regional title.
WA came out of the gates quickly on Tuesday, putting a Fernandes header off of a long free kick on goal about a minute into the match.
A few minutes later, Seager drove toward the net and his effort deflected off of a defender before getting halted by the Bucs keeper.
The Warriors finally struck in the 10th minute when Hardy drove toward the goal and put an attempt into the opposite side of the net.
Following shots by Emmanuel Resendiz and Michael Carver, Hardy sent a free kick to Seager, who put in a short try in the 19th minute.
Sezonov had to dive to stop an attempt from Resendiz and then Zimmerman got free on the other side before his shot try was thwarted.
WA took a 3-0 lead in the 25th minute when a pass from Hardy to Zimmerman went to Rougas, who was denied but then put in the rebound.
A Lucas Hoepner corner and West flick nearly led to a goal before Culberson made a short try in the 30th minute to make it 4-0 score.
The Warriors tried to add to their advantage before the halftime break but attempts from both Rougas and Fernandes were turned away.
"I think that we've really stepped it up and have been playing very well once we started the playoffs," Bergquist said. "Our defense has been strong all year and our offense has been performing very well and been finishing well just like they're supposed to do.
"You can't look past teams in the playoffs and look forward to others because that's how you get upset. It's been a lot of fun so far and I think that we've really grown as a team. I think that we've had our lull but have definitely stepped it up for the playoffs."
It was more of the same in the final half, beginning with efforts from Culberson and Zimmerman which were stopped in the early going.
Things finally clicked once more in the 48th minute when West found Seager, who fired in a shot to give the Warriors a 5-0 advantage.
After Zimmerman was denied and an Isaac Anthony corner to Finnegan resulted in a header that was cleared, the Bucs had two good tries.
But Sezonov deflected away a header by Saul Vilchis and then hauled in a shot by Adair Horteales following the subsequent corner kick.
WA made it 6-0 in the 60th minute when Fernandes found Ruff, who connected for a goal and then did so again exactly two minutes later.
That cut the remaining time in half and Jon Cantey entered to manage the final minutes in the net to preserve the Warrior clean sheet.
"Today we came out and gave it our all and definitely got the job done," Ruff said. "We're happy with how we're playing but know that we haven't reached our full potential. We want to get everyone involved and today we did that.
"We definitely have our goals and I feel that we're on our way to trying to achieve them. Coming off of last year's finish, I definitely feel that the team is more prepared for these games because of our experience."