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MSL title game does the conference proud


By Gary Larsen

Amid Wheeling’s wild celebration and Barrington’s sadness in defeat, two moments stood out after Thursday’s MSL title game in Barrington

After Wheeling keeper Gary Mendoza stopped a sudden death shootout attempt from Barrington’s Tyler Anderson – thus giving the Wildcats a 2-1 victory – Anderson walked off alone to the far corner of the field, understandably distraught.

Rather than allow Anderson to spend that moment of grief alone, a few of his teammates sprinted after him. The rest of the Broncos quickly followed and soon Anderson was surrounded by teammates, bent on supporting him.

“In a moment when you all want to put your heads down and think about defeat, they’re sprinting over to (Anderson) to pick him up,” Barrington coach Scott Steib said. ”Our team motto this year is ‘you’ll never walk alone’, and in that moment those kids were living it. As a coach, it can almost bring you to tears watching something like that. “

That was Thursday’s first post-game moment of character. The second came from Mendoza.

Wheeling’s senior keeper made not one but two pivotal saves in the game. In addition to the game-winning shootout stop, Mendoza dove to his left and went parallel to the ground in the first half, snatching a sure Barrington goal out of the air to keep Wheeling within a goal of tying the game.

After the game, Mendoza was engulfed by teammates and Wheeling fans that stormed the field, and was twice lifted upon their shoulders in celebration. But at a moment when he could have taken a lot of the credit for getting his program its first MSL title in 36 years, Mendoza showed maturity beyond his years.

Asked directly about the importance of his two monumental saves in the game, an emotional Mendoza deferred.

“It was a team effort and everyone gave everything they had," he said. "It took the whole team to win this game. The whole team."

Of course there were specific plays and game stats from this year’s title game that keyed the outcome. Yes, Logan Morris gave Barrington a 1-0 lead before halftime and sure, Wheeling’s Jose Garcia added to the legend of his senior year by earning and then converting a game-tying penalty kick in the second half.

Mendoza and counterpart Pat Deroche were solid in net, both teams’ backlines played well, tackles were hard and battles were pitched with intensity all over the field in a high-quality game throughout.

But the MSL title game is set up to mean more than the crowning of a conference champion. At halftime, like players do every year, this year’s all-conference players in the MSL took the field and were recognized one-by-one. All but one of the 40 all-conference players from 12 MSL teams was present for the honor.

Garcia in the MSL East and Palatine’s Kyle Clancy in the West were named players of the year in their respective divisions. Barrington received this year’s sportsmanship award. Wheeling coach Ed Uhrik and Steib were named coaches of the year from their divisions, and coaches from around the MSL were in the stands along with players from their programs.

Wheeling brought a vanload of cheerleaders and a boisterous, vocal group of Wheeling students, friends, and parents.

“The support from the MSL coaches and teams is tremendous,” Steib said. “We’ve been in the stands for a couple of years now, watching the title game, so I told the kids to turn around and enjoy the moment. It’s a showcase night for our conference.”

The game on the field was a showcase for Wheeling and Barrington, and it didn’t disappoint. “I felt like it was a well-fought game and we had an equal amount of chances,” Morris said. “We could have possessed the game more when we were up, but (Wheeling) did a good job.”

Steib was happy with the quality of the play all around.

“I talked to Ed Uhrik between regulation and overtime and said it’s been a quality match, and anyone that came tonight would be entertained,” Steib said. “You want your programs to be in that moment and be proud of that moment, and I think we can both be proud.”

Pride doesn’t begin to describe what the Wildcats felt after they won the program’s first MSL title since 1977.

“It's going to feel even better tomorrow," Garcia said. "We'll wake up tomorrow knowing we did this for everyone -- for coach (Uhrik), for our fans, for everyone. It’s an amazing experience for everyone.”

When Wheeling's big moment came and the Wildcats were presented with their championship trophy -- on Barrington’s home field -- the Broncos stood as a group near their bench.

Not surprisingly, they stood there applauding.

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