Wheeling tops Barrington, heads to Final Four
By Gary Larsen
Barrington tied 0-0 and then lost in a shootout to Wheeling this year and the Broncos hoped that in a most important third meetinge -- Tuesday’s Class 3A super-sectional game -- things would finally go their way.
Wheeling had other ideas.
Wheeling’s 2-1 win on goals from Luis Herrera and Marino Lopez gave coach Ed Uhrik’s team its first trip to the state finals in program history. MSL East player of the year Jose Garcia had a hand in both goals and afterwards he spoke to his program’s big picture.
"It feels like it's a dream. It hasn't kicked in yet," Garcia said. "But we're learning from all of this and hopefully next year's team keeps doing this. We're hoping to start something new for the guys."
Uhrik knew he had something special heading into the 2013 season.
"From Day One we knew this team had potential so we raised the bar higher than what we've expected in the past," Uhrik said. "We put expectations there that were a little bit more bold than what I've put there in the past, because I wanted these guys to believe in themselves. And they have constantly stepped up to that challenge."
Wheeling (22-1-2) was sharp, intense, and hard-working from start to finish, leaving Barrington (19-4-4) coach Scott Steib with little to do but tip his hat.
“I thought they were good in the other games but of the three times we’ve played them, that’s the best they’ve looked,” Steib said. “They looked really good tonight. They controlled the game much more effectively than we did tonight.”
Wheeling came out in attack mode, winning fifty-fifties and applying steady pressure. Garcia, Ivan Mancilla, and Francisco Arellano all found shots on their feet but Broncos keeper Pat Deroche and his backline stood firm through the game’s 20th minute.
Barrington began to win more balls and spend some time on Wheeling’s half during the game’s second 20 minutes, establishing a pattern of long throws from Jamie Tausend. Giles Phillips and Connor Hennelly each sent shots wide and Tausend whipped a corner kick through the crease and past the far post at 21 minutes.
But a Wheeling defense led by a gritty center back in Nathan Laude handled every restart Barrington had to offer, and defender Lopez shined in the air throughout the contest.
After a scoreless first half, the game’s first goal came courtesy of Garcia, when the senior captain picked his way between and around a few defenders and attacked the near post on the left side.
Deroche made a fine initial stop but the ball deflected along the goal line, and Wheeling’s Luis Herrera was there to stretch the back netting on the sitter at the 50-minute mark.
Play went back-and-forth until Barrington knotted the game when a Wheeling defender inadvertently redirected a Tausend serve from the left side into the net in the game’s 66th minute.
The tie didn’t last long. One minute later, Garcia sent in a corner kick and Lopez soared up after it to get his head on it, burying it inside the near post.
Well, that’s not exactly how it happened.
“It went in off my face,” Lopez said. “I read it right and thought I jumped up too late, and I went back with the ball and it went in off my face. I didn’t hit it with my forehead or anything. That hurt.”
"Go figure,” Uhrik said. “Here we are spending all this time worrying about Barrington's restarts and here we score the game-winner on a restart. But that's the difference this year. This year I've got guys that can win the ball in the (air)."
Barrington spent the game’s final 10 minutes in fifth gear, chasing a tying goal. Phillips ripped a shot that flew just outside the post at 73 minutes and Connor Hennelly ran onto a cross at the goalmouth down the stretch, but Wheeling keeper Gary Mendoza was there to gather Hennelly’s first touch on it.
After winning the program’s sixth sectional title in a 3-1 win over Buffalo Grove on Saturday, the Broncos had to watch as the Wildcats’ wild post-game celebration raged on.
“I have absolutely nothing negative to say to our kids,” Steib said. “Their ability to battle – and you see it a lot in that situation, but I was really pleased with the heart they showed. Not that other kids weren’t working hard, too, but just because he’s playing where he is (at outside back), I thought the work rate from Jamie Tausend tonight was incredible.”
Steib will bid farewell to seniors Hennelly, Tausend, Logan Morris, Jonathan Wilson, David Conrad, Andrew Simek, Wesley Collins, and Danny Balleno, and that farewell won’t come easy.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cried at a banquet but the other night I came pretty close, because I’m so proud of these guys for who they are,” Steib said. “They really have pulled at my heart in a really good way.
“I don’t think we’ve had a team with this many high-character kids, so you hope that leadership gets passed on and doesn’t graduate, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t stick because of the guys that are leaving and the tone they’ve set.”
For Wheeling, a state semifinal awaits them against Lake Park (21-2-3), with Naperville Central (18-2-2) and Edwardsville (19-2-3) on the other side of the bracket.
The Wildcats play Lake Park at 5:00 on Friday at Hoffman Estates’ home field, with Naperville Central and Edwardsville squaring off at 7:00.
High school soccer players usually play with pride for their teammates and their school, but now and then a team emerges that feels like it is playing for its entire community.
Wheeling has that kind of team in 2013.
"Before the game I gave them a little bit of a pep talk about who they are and what they represent regarding Wheeling, and the community that we have, and some of the battles they have to face that maybe students at other schools don't have to see, in terms of some of the hardships that they have,” Uhrik said.
"Maybe that got them going a little bit but the truth is, we've got talent. When it comes down to it we've got guys that can finish, guys that can possess, guys in the back that are faster than most of the other guys I've seen, and it makes a big difference."
Steib consoled his troops after the loss and then spoke to the magnitude of the win for rival Wheeling.
“I hate losing but a little smile comes over my face pretty quickly after the game, because I see Eddie (Uhrik) and this guy has been a warrior over here and not had year after year after year like this one, and you can see the joy. I can’t help but smile just because of the joy in his face,” Steib said.
“There are a lot of coaches working hard that never get this far so to see that joy from him, in that moment, was great. I’m very proud of our conference, we have great coaches, and so I can turn pretty quickly and say ‘let’s go, MSL’. I’m ready to start breaking down film with him to beat Lake Park on Friday.”
Uhrik and his boys aim to leave everything on the field and continue to enjoy a downstate experience that only a chosen few ever get to experience.
And they intend to make the most of it.
"I haven't seen Lake Park play but I know they're quality, and I'm sure it will be a similar kind of match," Uhrik said. "Our kids love the game and they play it beautifully. The sky's the limit, and why not?"