Huskies can't hold off Redwings in regional finals
By Matt Le Cren
This time there was no magical finish for Oak Park and River Forest.
Last year, the Huskies stunned defending state champion Morton 2-1 to win their third consecutive regional championship.
And a fourth straight crown looked within their grasp as they held a 2-1 halftime lead on favored Benet Academy on Friday at the Class 3A Hinsdale South Regional final.
But the third-seeded Redwings rewrote the ending to fit their tastes, stunning the sixth-seeded Huskies with a blizzard of four goals in the second half, including three in a span of 94 seconds, to roll to a 5-2 victory in Darien.
It is the third regional title in the past four years for Benet (17-3-1), which will face No. 2 seed Morton (24-2) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Hinsdale South Sectional semifinals.
“It was a great second half,” Benet coach Sean Wesley said. “First half we were against the wind with the sun setting. Didn’t make it easy for us. It allowed them to kind of pin us in our half and it was difficult to get out.
“I was actually happy at halftime that we were able to get a goal in the first half against that sort of pressure and with the conditions being the way they were.”
Benet was the only team to score against the wind as senior Michael Rindler rolled a six-yard shot inside the right post off assists from Kyle Kenagy and Bobby Smith. That tied the game at 1-1 with 17:32 remaining in the opening half.
But the Huskies (10-6-5), who drew first blood when Erik Arsovski scored on a 35-yard shot into the upper left corner of the net at the 31:58 mark, regained the lead six minutes later on a goal by Tim Huettel.
“Our season was on the line at halftime so we knew we really had to come out strong and finish it up,” Rindler said. “That would have been my last game.”
Rindler and Kenagy made sure it wasn’t as each finished with two goals. Kenagy tied the game when he outjumped a defender and headed home a Sam Knapke corner kick with 33:16 left and then Rindler put the Redwings ahead to stay with a brilliant goal at the 21:20 mark.
Kenagy, a junior who now has 26 goals and nine assists, sent the ball up the right wing to Rindler, who made a Roadrunner-like burst to blow past his defender into the right side of the box before rifling a 10-yard shot into the lower left corner.
“Second half we came out with lots of energy, we kept the ball at our feet, we worked off the ball, we were mobile and it helps,” Wesley said. “Rindler’s goal was spectacular, to fly by him and then a perfect shot with power into the lower window.”
Rindler usually doesn't display much emotion but a big grin spread across his face when asked about the goal, which was his 20th of the season.
“I took it diagonal to the keeper and I was able to put it in the corner,” said Rindler, who also has 12 assists. “That was a great moment. It means a lot to me.”
It meant a lot to his teammates as well.
“Rindler sent the ball into me and then he made a run and when Rindler makes a run, you know to play it to him because he’s going in the box,” Kenagy said. “Whether he can get to the end line or go straight to the goal, either one is very dangerous.”
The Redwings were dangerous throughout the second half, using the wind at their backs to great advantage. Arsovski and fellow OPRF defenders Mavin Gill, Kirk Svensson and Stevie Samuels hung tough for as long as they could in front of goalie Sam Lisak, who made five of his seven saves in the first 20 minutes of the second half.
But Benet was simply too powerful for the Huskies and Rindler’s goal opened the floodgates.
Eddie Manzke scored his eighth goal of the season 28 seconds later when he rammed home a rebound of an Andrew Heaton shot that had been blocked. Then Kenagy made it 5-2 just 1:06 after that, receiving a pass from the left side from Paddy Lawler and chipping a shot over backup goalie William Dunne’s head.
“We started a little slow,” Kenagy noted. “That might be because of the wind and sun but we try not to have excuses.
"We came out the second half and we wanted it. We really wanted it and I think everyone was on board and because of that it resulted in constant pressure on their side of the field, obviously resulting in goals.”
Benet outshot the Huskies 11-4 in the second half and Benet keeper Nick Senak, who took over from Konrad Bayer at halftime, did not have to make a save.
The offensive explosion was particularly impressive considering OPRF had been 7-1-1 over its last nine games.
“We didn’t want to make any mistakes in the back,” Wesley said. “We wanted to go forward and we wanted to try to play in their half and in the second half we did that. That was the best we’ve looked in a long time.”
Afterward, the Redwings celebrated with their fans and families, getting together for the usual group pictures. But it was a quiet celebration because they have higher aspirations that will require extraordinary effort.
They know they will have to beat Morton and possibly undefeated Hinsdale Central (19-0-2) if they are to win their first sectional title since 2006.
“We want to be able to go as far as possible and this is just a step down the road,” Rindler said.