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Coach: Kevin Fitzgerald
Assistant coaches:
Anne Comer, Mario Dukovac
Jarod Petrovic So., M
Miguel Sanchez Jr., M
Gage Wuestenfeld Jr., D
Matt Jamrozy Jr., D
Zach Sinnock Jr., M
Sam Espinal Sr., D
Jose Cardenas So., D
Ozzie Gutierrez Jr., M
Miguel Duran Jr., F
Gustavo Sanchez So., M
Nick Evans Sr., F
Phil Garcia So., D
Tom Poznanski Sr., D
Zach Gill So., M
Quinn Ahrens Jr., D
Ola Shobowale Sr., D
Kyle Holden Jr., D
Marlon Salazar Sr., F
Max Woodward Fr., F
Matt Bralich So., GK
Kyle Oehler Sr., GK
Angela Menefee Manager
Rachel Thomas Manager

Wildcats can't hold off late rally by rival Cougars


By Matt Le Cren

Plainfield South’s Senior Night didn’t get off to a good start.

The ending, however, was better than anyone could have expected.

After being thoroughly outplayed in the first half, the host Cougars roared back and scored four goals in the final 18 minutes.

That allowed them to beat rival Plainfield Central 4-2 in a Southwest Prairie Conference match in Joliet in what also was the regular season finale for both teams.

Leading the offensive explosion was Miguel Espinoza, who erupted for three goals and an assist. The senior midfielder’s exploits were as amazing as they were unanticipated.

The hat trick was the first for Espinoza, who came into the match having scored just two goals this season.

“We knew we had to start playing with more intensity because we weren’t doing our best in the first half, so we knew we had to step it up,” Espinoza said. “The four goals were a result of that.”

All four goals were pretty finishes resulting from breakaways or quick counterattacks from the midfield.

Espinoza got the rally started when he took a pass from Julian Tejeda and raced up the left wing before squeezing a hard 15-yard shot into the upper left corner of the net, just beyond the outstretched fingers of leaping Central goalie Kyle Oehler with 17:45 remaining.

Despite giving up four goals, Oehler actually had a solid night. He made five saves, including a leaping effort to tip a header from Tejeda over the crossbar with 14:05 left.

But the Cougars (6-11-3, 3-4) kept on coming as junior Michael Decker banged home a rebound of an Espinoza shot that was broken up by the defense, tying the game at 2-2 with 9:22 to go.

“After the first goal we had all the momentum,” Espinoza said. “Coach told us whoever scores the next goal is probably going to win the match, so since we scored we had all the momentum.”

Sensing Espinoza had the hot hand, or in this case hot foot, the Cougars started targeting him with long passes from their end of the field.

The strategy worked as the hosts were able to initiate a series of dangerous attacks.

One of those led to a 4-on-3 situation and resulted in the game-winning goal. Decker sent a cross from the right side of the box to Espinoza, whose half-volley from eight yards out put South ahead 3-2 at the 4:36 mark.

Espinoza then finished the scoring on a breakaway with 40 seconds left, squeezing a low 23-yard shot in between the lunging Oehler and the right post.

“We just started playing long balls,” Espinoza said. “We knew we were faster players and it just got to them.”

South coach David Brown went to a more offensive-oriented style with 25 minutes remaining in an effort to end the Wildcats’ domination of the midfield. It worked even better than he expected.

“I don’t know [where the offense came from],” Brown said. “We haven’t seen an offensive onslaught like that all season.

“Plainfield Central just absolutely ran us off the field the first half, so we talked about at halftime earning the right to attack by defending the right way.

But the Wildcats still owned a two-goal lead about a quarter of an hour through the final half.

“Then about 25 minutes left in the game we’re down 2-0 still and we talked about a formation change that we haven’t played all year,” Brown said. “We pushed some guys up and kind of eliminated the middle of the field a little bit, had some guys sending the ball a little bit deeper, putting some pressure on their back line.

“With the field being a little bit wet and the ball skipping, we have some dangerous players if we can get them into dangerous situations, as Miguel showed when he got up in front of the goal, he was able to finish.”

Decker, who scored his fourth goal of the season, said the Cougars recognized Espinoza could do damage.

“Miguel was doing really good and we wanted to get him the ball as much as we could,” Decker said. “It ended up well.”

The rally impressed Central coach Kevin Fitzgerald, who was as stunned as Brown by the turnaround.

“They rose to the challenge and we shrunk from it,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s the bottom line.

“Credit to them. They played a heckuva second half and a heckuva last 25 minutes. They pressed up. We just caved under the pressure, but they put the pressure on, so they took the game.”

Interestingly, it was the Cougars who were feeling confident at halftime even though the Wildcats (9-8-5, 4-3) held a 2-0 advantage thanks to goals from Zach Gill and Gustavo Sanchez.

“We were just really pumped up and Coach Brown told us we haven’t come back this season when we’re losing 2-0,” Decker said. “After halftime we were just really pumped up and we wanted to win. It felt really good, especially because it’s Senior Night.”

In the end, both teams produced 12 shots, but the breakdown was telling. The Wildcats held a 10-3 advantage in the first half, only to see the Cougars gain a 9-2 edge after intermission.

The two-goal deficit didn’t seem insurmountable to the hosts.

“We knew that 2-0 isn’t the best [lead] to keep in soccer,” Espinoza said. “We knew if we scored we were still going to be in it, so once we scored we knew we could make a comeback.”

Thus the Cougars, who came into the match on a four-game losing streak and were 2-11-2 in their last 15 outings, made some sweet memories for seniors Espinoza, Tejeda, Ricky Hamilton, Salvador Chavez, Cesar Bautista, Xavier Gonzalez, Andy Prado, Danny Mora, Colin Lay, Colby Soderman and Carlos Arechiga.

“It was all about them tonight,” Brown said. “They came through the last 25 minutes and played the best 25 minutes of the year and that’s what Senior Night is all about.

“That’s where memories of the season are made for these guys. They’re going to remember that game for the rest of their lives, playing one of their rivals on our home field, coming back from 2-nil down and getting a 4-2 win. Somehow, some way, they willed it.”

In contrast, the Wildcats weren’t able to follow up on their opening half. Central started out the season 6-3-3 but has won just three of its last 10 matches and takes a four-game losing streak into the playoffs.

“South is a talented team with some good players,” Fitzgerald said. “We have good players, too, and I think we’re a good team but we keep trying to prove that we’re not.

“I think we have good kids with good character, but we lack competitive drive and we lack mental toughness.”

Fitzgerald said that showed during South’s comeback.

“We just got through telling them everybody can play well with the lead,” Fitzgerald said. “What happens when teams get a little adversity? How do we react? Unfortunately, you saw how we reacted.”


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