Spartans attack, end IMSA's season
By Gary Larsen
The last time St. Francis played Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA), the Spartans fell behind 1-0 before coming to life to put four goals on the board in a 4-1 win.
They came to life much quicker on Saturday.
St. Francis (6-10-3) won 8-0 over the Titans in their Class 2A regional play-in game, getting seven goals before halftime and thus cutting the second-half clock from 40 to 20 minutes, per IHSA rules.
Saturday’s win sends the Spartans into a regional semifinal game on Tuesday against SCC rival Wheaton Academy.
“I was worried about how they might come out tonight,” Spartans coach Kristin Keigley said of her Spartans, “but they did exactly what we wanted to have happen – goals in the first minute-and-a-half, we didn’t let up, and we put it away because we didn’t want to leave anything to chance.”
Joe Wood got the Spartans on the board just two minutes into the game on a short pass across the six from Nick Roehl. Wood pressured an IMSA defender and took a ball away at 7 minutes, then took a touch into the IMSA box on the right side and fired in his second goal.
Senior Michael Downs made it 3-0 at 14 minutes, following up an initial shot taken by Roehl and burying the rebound shot.
With three goals on the board and having yet to give up a quality shot on keeper John Burke, St. Francis wasn’t about to take its foot off the gas pedal.
The Spartans continued to attack IMSA in a variety of ways, and a team that only started two seniors on Saturday showed seasoning in one vital area.
“Passing, definitely,” Downs said. “Jayvee players are so used to dribbling but now that they’re up here they know they have to pass because dribbling is not going to work. Our passing has gotten much better, and that’s something that Wheaton Academy does really well, so we’re hoping to match them.”
Downs and the other Spartans' seniors also had to settle some of the youngsters down on Saturday. "Some of us were celebrating when we scored our sixth goal, and that's something you can't do," Downs said. "You have to show the other team respect in that situation."
A backline that featured Joe Denny, Tim Pisarski, JP Clifford, and David Johnson kept keeper John Burke well-protected in the Spartans’ fifth shutout of the season. St. Francis recently held Class 3A Larkin scoreless in a 0-0 tie, and Denny likes the formation his side has settled on for the postseason.
“I was sick for the Larkin game but I was able to watch it, and I like having the outsides being able to make runs, and then safely having people back,” Denny said. “It makes such a difference. We’re also able to get it off to our midfield defender easier.”
The Spartans’ fourth and fifth goals came courtesy of Roehl on a pair of passes sent ahead by Brian Cochrane in the 23rd and 24th minutes of the game. Cochrane scored one of his own at 26 minutes to make it 6-0, and Burke made a quality stop at 28 minutes, diving to his right.
David Gianos scored at 32 minutes to guarantee a shortened second half. The Spartans had netted 21 goals in 18 games heading into Saturday’s game, but used a solid passing game and a variety of ways to score their eight goals on Saturday.
“We were moving the ball and we weren’t forcing it down one side,” Keigley said. “We were switching sides, and one of the things I’ve been harping about this season is not making straight runs and just trying to chip the ball over. Those runs never work, and today they were making runs on a diagonal ball, and that’s the combination we’ve been working on.”
Keigley applauded the day’s work put in by Wood, “and Nick Roehl always has that flash of speed for us,” Keigley said. Gianos scored his second goal of the game in the second half to finish the day’s scoring.
As the fifth seed of the Glenbard South’s 2A regional, the Spartans know what they’re up against in taking on top-seeded Wheaton Academy (17-3-1), for the right to play the winner between Fenton and Glenbard South in a regional title game.
“It’s definitely their speed, and they give good through-balls,” Denny said of Wheaton Academy’s strength in the attack.
The Spartans and Warriors haven’t met in the postseason since 2011, when St. Francis made its run to a state supersectional game. The Warriors won 5-0 over the Spartans in this year’s SCC meeting on Sept. 12.