Pirates fall in third meeting with rival BG
By Mike Garofola
In the bottom half of the MSL table at season’s end, it seemed like an early exit in the state tournament might have awaited Buffalo Grove, seeded 15th at this year’s Class 3A Mundelein Sectional.
Bison manager Rick Carlson’s confidence and loyalty in his lads proved spot on when they bumped off No. 2 Warren in their regional opener, before springing another surprise early Friday evening with a well-deserved 2-1 victory over host and 9th-seeded Palatine for a regional championship.
The Bison booked their place in Tuesday's Mundelein sectional semifinals, where they’ll face No. 14 Carmel, which navigated around and through No. 3 St. Viator, then No. 11 Fremd in a shootout to advance.
"I might be a little biased, but I never felt we were a No. 15 seed, although I understood it because of our sub-500 record when it was time to seed our sectional," said Carlson, who wore a wide grin long after his club lifted its regional title silverware in celebration.
"The MSL is a terrific soccer conference, and there's never an easy night during your regular season," Carlson said. "If you look at our results there are eight losses in there, but we drew six other times, and except for a poor effort against Rolling Meadows, every game was 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, including a 2-1 loss to the MSL champ Wheeling, and a 1-0 loss at Barrington to the MSL West champ."
Palatine manager Willie Filian agreed with Carlson's assessment.
"They play hard, and you could see their energy and work rate the other night against Warren.
"That worries anyone, but we also figured if we could create chances off our deep throws and corners, and play with our usual high work rate and pressure all over the pitch, we could put ourselves in a position to advance.
"But tonight, we didn't do that, especially in the first half, and in the end they beat us at our own game. We congratulate their effort and victory, and wish them a lot of luck going forward."
At the onset, with a strong wind at Palatine’s back, it appeared the soccer gods had aligned the perfect storm for the Pirates (9-8-4) who played direct and into the corners, forcing the Bison to concede far too many long throws from Gavin Falotico, and corners off the foot of Jahir Flores.
"We started to chart the number of throws we allowed in the first 15 minutes, and we figured if that pace kept up, Palatine would have over 40 by the end of the game," Carlson said.
"We came in knowing that would be our undoing, but I have to say that the guys really defended nearly all of their set-piece chances well, except the one that came off their equalizer. When you add up how many they had, wasn't too bad."
Despite all of their fine work defending, the Bison (7-8-6) were the ones that struck first, and it came in the 11th minute when Pat Tucharski sent a low shot into the net.
"It was a bit of a fluke goal, but we also didn't take advantage of all those chances we put together," Filian said.
"We defended well during that first half when they really came at us, and as a team we did a great job, with some big saves coming from Ricardo (Valencia)," said Bison senior co-captain Allan Santiaguillo, who was superb in back for BG.
Valencia turned away Sergio Hernandez, Falotico, and Brennan Harding in the first half, and then thanked the underside of the bar when it denied a nasty drive from Flores just before intermission.
When the Bison did get into their attack it looked fluid, quick and composed as the quartet of Zach Masciopinto, Drew Brauner, Connor Reid and Todor Dimitrov all steamed into the area.
Sophomore Hans Haller, who along with Santiaguillo, Daniel Ramirez and Ryan Drum refused to roll over along the back against the Pirates, would offset the long throws of Falotico with a long toss of his own to help get the Bison out of trouble.
"I can't say enough of the way we handled things in the back," Santiaguillo repeated during his postseason interview alongside Brauner, who was the offensive hero of the night for the Bison.
With urgency in its sails, the Pirates poured forward after the break in its search to draw even.
Flores nearly steered in the equalizer when Valencia ventured far off his line in the 48th minute, then looked to do so at the hour mark after a lung-bursting run from Kevin Burke pried open the Bison in their own end.
Burke found Tyler Curylo, who in turn put the ball on the foot of Flores, who set up Hernandez, whose shot rattled the underside of the bar.
Six minutes later, the Pirates drew even.
After another long throw from the near flag by Falotico created a scrum inside the box, a loose ball fell to Liam Obernesser just a few yards off the near touchline.
With a quick turn, the sophomore unloaded a spectacular left-footed one-timer into the far inside netting.
"We had been building to that point, and when we finally got into the back of the net, I figured we had grabbed the momentum and would continue from there,” Filian said. “But we surprisingly lost that edge, and it was just a few minutes later that (Buffalo Grove) came down and put the game-winner in.”
Before that goal, tempers flared at the midline with several players pushing and shoving following a 50-50 confrontation. The confrontation ended with the Pirates all-state senior Kyle Clancy coming off with a bloody lip.
"That was key because we tried for nearly six minutes to bring Kyle back on after they fixed up his lip, and that's when they scored the go-ahead goal," Filian said.
Haller played a lovely early ball from out of the back on the left side into the center channel, and Brauner did the rest as he ran onto the ball and unleashed a powerful low drive that Palatine’s all-MSL keeper Kyle Leber had no chance to stop.
"My role of late is to come off the bench, provide fresh legs, and give our team 15 minutes of my best, so when the chance was there for me I had to take advantage of it," said the sophomore Brauner, who also provided the game-winner against Warren last Tuesday night.
"Buffalo Grove has been on a nice little run ever since beating us (2-1) in a crossover, and at this time of the season, it's always good to be going that way in order to stay alive," said Filian.
Buffalo Grove takes on Carmel at 6:30 PM on Tuesday at Mundelein, for the right to play for a sectional title.
"I am sure hardly anyone gave us a chance of getting out of this regional, but we used that as motivation,” Carlson said. “It’s a reminder that when the state tournament begins, everyone is an equal, and the guys have really picked up on that. I am very proud of all of them right now.”