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Warriors fall to Morton in Pepsi Showdown semis


By Matt Le Cren

Wheaton Academy was trying to take its Cinderella run in the Pepsi Showdown all the way to the tournament finals.

The Warriors might have done it, too, had it not been for Jovany Garcia.

Garcia scored two brilliant goals and he and his Morton teammates held off a late rally to edge the Warriors 2-1 in semifinal action Saturday in LaGrange.

The sixth-seeded Mustangs will be appearing in their third final in four years when they take on No. 8-seed Lane, which beat No. 5 Libertyville 1-0 in double overtime, on September 29 at Toyota Park.

The loss ended an inspired run by Wheaton Academy (8-2), which advanced to the semifinals of the prestigious tournament for the first time since 2004, the Pepsi’s inaugural season.

The 10th-seeded Warriors upset No. 7 Metea Valley 2-0 in the second round and took out No. 2 Warren, the reigning Class 3A state champions, 3-1 in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Morton won the 2011 Class 3A state title, so the Warriors were attempting to beat the last two large-school state champions in back-to-back games.

While they came up short in that quest, their play bodes well for a long run through the Class 2A state tournament.

“The Pepsi is just a great opportunity for us to play 3A schools and really have the opportunity to play the best competition in the state,” Wheaton Academy sophomore Ty Seager said.

“It’s really good for us to make a name for ourselves and kind of show other people what we’re about.”

But Garcia, a senior forward, showed something as well by scoring two great goals in the first half. They came on Morton’s first two shots of the game and gave the Mustangs (8-1) a 2-0 lead.

The first came on a 17-yard rocket into the far upper right corner of the net. Wheaton Academy goalie Drew Sezonov, who finished with four saves, made a great effort but it was out of his reach.

“Nobody was saving that one,” said Morton coach Mike Caruso, whose team has made at least the semifinals each of the five years it has competed in the Pepsi.

“[Garcia] is a versatile player for us. We can move him back to center mid and the ball sticks on his foot when he’s got it.

“He’s so calm but at the same time he’s lethal inside the 18. He knows what to do and he doesn’t panic at all. He’s calm and collected with the ball.”

Garcia, who had never before scored two goals in a game, demonstrated that on his second strike, his fifth goal of the season.

It came with 6:27 to go in the first half when he took a pass from Mario Romero and patiently got around a defender before sending a 12-yard shot inside the left post.

“He’s small and he kind of slid in between,” Caruso said. “He made a lateral run across the box and one touch and buried it in the goal.”

Aside from a weak header that was stopped easily by Sezonov, Garcia’s goals were Morton’s only shots of the first half.

The Mustangs had just six for the game, compared to eight for Wheaton Academy (8-2), but they had the better of the run of play for the first hour.

“They attack in an unorthodox way and I give them a lot of credit,” Wheaton Academy Jeff Brooke said.

“They bring numbers in a delayed fashion and they’re calm on the ball. Their two finishes were just brilliant but their off-the-ball runs were really good, so props to them.”

But the Warriors earned their fair share of props for the way they competed, especially in the second half.

Sezonov made a great diving save to deflect a breakaway shot from Edgar Garcia around the right post in the opening minute of the second half and after that the Warriors slowly started to build momentum.

Seager put the Warriors on the board with his 10th goal of the season with 8:45 remaining. Morton goalie Ian Chacon lunged and tipped the 20-yard bullet but the ball caromed off the right post and in.

It was just the latest clutch goal for Seager, who tallied the game-winning goal in the Warriors’ 2-1 double-overtime win over Whitney Young in the first round of the tourney.

Sam Hardy, who scored twice in Thursday’s win over Warren, assisted on the play.

“They played really well in the first half and they got two goals and there were a few bounces that didn’t go our way, but you’ve got to push through that,” Seager said.

“I feel like in the second half, we got the goal and then literally, probably the last 10 minutes we were playing really well. We had a lot of opportunities and were pushing really hard. I think we were about to crack them.”

Time ran out before the Warriors could do so, but that takes nothing away from a great tournament.

“We knew they were going to get one and make it interesting,” Caruso said. “They’re talented. They move the ball well and that No. 2 [Casey Zimmerman] is a handful out there. He’s a physical player and he’s tough.”

The Warriors played Saturday without defensive captain Zeb Lewis, who was injured in the Warren match, while midfielder Jacob Fernandes played half his usual minutes due to a sprained ankle. Kevin Esposito and Hunter Finnegan replaced Lewis in the lineup.

“It took everything we had to get by [Warren], so we came in with a couple injuries today and I was proud of how some guys stepped up,” Brooke said. “We try to start in the back and build from the back so to have Zeb not there is a big part of it.

“We were proud of what the guys did in this tournament. I believe Morton was glad for that game to end because we were gaining some momentum and we were starting to figure it out.”


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