Saints score four in second half to win regional title
By Curt Herron
The scoreboard at Norris stadium explained the situation perfectly at halftime of Friday's Class 3A regional championship match.
St. Charles East's memorable season hung in the balance after upstart Rolling Meadows rallied quickly from a 2-0 deficit to tie things.
And Paul Jennison knew that his Saints had to respond in a big way in order get past the pesky Mustangs and advance to sectional play.
But with the pressure squarely on it, East did just that, scoring four times in the final 22 minutes to claim a 6-2 win in St. Charles.
It was the most-productive goal effort for the Saints (19-1-4) in one month, and half of the total was provided by Zach Manibog.
Taylor Ortiz, Jacob Sterling and Jeff Chitwood also added scores while Tyler Robbins, Jared Brown and Ortiz handed out assists.
As a result of its strong second-half showing, East advances to Tuesday's 6:30 pm Schaumburg Sectional semifinals.
That's where they'll meet up with the winner of today's Glenbard East Regional between Glenbard North and Wheaton North.
"We told the seniors that if this was going to be their last game on this field to leave a lasting memory and to the younger lads, you might never get this opportunity again, so take advantage of it," Jennison said. "Thankfully they put in a second half which was spectacular. It was great to see and I'm very proud of that.
"This goes to show that if we want to be successful going down the road and want to continue this journey that we can't take plays off and you can't give teams the opportunity to come back in games.
"But this was good since the lads learned a lot today and I learned a lot. To be honest, until you're put in those pressure situations, you never know haw they're going to react. We had to step up in a big time and they had to have a big gut check and luckily the answers they gave were the right ones."
With a solid resume built up, it was clearly no fluke that the Mustangs were giving the Saints all that they could handle.
"They were quality opposition, no doubt, and were far better than their seed suggested," Jennison said. "To be honest, i know that they'll be feeling the grief because if things would have opened up for them, they were a team that could have given it a good run.
"They have some quality players and they put two on us and to be fair, they were the better team in the first half. Going in at 2-2, I was happy with that, simply for the fact that we weren't doing what we needed to do. We were second-best to the ball and being out-worked.
"When we talked at halftime, I talked and they listened. We adjusted a few things and the bottom line was look, we had to figure out if we were serious about continuing to go down the road and they responded fantastically well. Credit Rolling Meadows, but as I told the boys, 'this is our time.'"
Regardless of who the Saints draw next, Jennison realizes that his squad will have to turn in a more-complete performance.
"Glenbard North is in our tournament and they're a quality team," Jennison said. "I always know that they're going to be physical, quick to the ball and play hard. And I've had many games against Tim (McEvilly) with the girls and his (Wheaton North) teams are always physical and the games are action-packed.
"But anyone in the sectional semifinals is a good team. I have no doubt that whoever we play against, it will be a game. Trust me, we won't be looking past that one because if you take your eyes off the prize for a second and don't give it your best, you find yourself in a tough situation."
The Saints got the wind advantage in the final half and immediately pressured Keeper Marc Quezada, who was up to the challenge.
After deflecting away a long free kick from Jordan Moore, Andrew Shone got free in front of the net put sent one a bit high.
A bit later, Meadows countered with a free kick from Brett Gibson that deflected toward Chris Lucatorto, who dove for the save.
Quezada stopped a Robbins free kick and a liner from Evan DiLeonardi before Sterling headed away an attempt by David Zarate.
The Saints kept it as the Mustang keeper came out of the net to thwart Brandon Villanueva and then a Moore try was deflected.
But things clicked again for the hosts in the 59th minute when Manibog got past a defender and fired in the eventual winner.
After Gibson answered with a free kick which Lucatorto denied, East connected again in the 62nd minute to take a 4-2 advantage.
Robbins placed a corner kick into the box and Sterling was there to put in the short effort to give the Saints some cushion.
Ortiz was stopped not long after that and then Manibog saw two of his close-range tries turned away by the Mustangs keeper.
But in the 74th minute, the Saint junior got free and completed his hat trick, which effectively wrapped things up for East.
But the Saints weren't done as Brown found Chitwood in front in the 77th minute and the Saint senior collected his first goal.
"Give Rolling Meadows a lot of credit," Chitwood said. "At the beginning of the second half, I was scared and biting my finger nails. We had been playing a little frantic but we regrouped and went back to playing how we've practiced and settled down and kept possession and started moving the ball.
"That was my first goal and Zach had a great match. Hopefully we can carry our second-half play as far as we can. I'm looking forward to the next few weeks, it's going to be great."
In the opening half, Ortiz got things started quickly when he drove in for the initial score in the fifth minute of play.
About a quarter of an hour in, Daniel DiLeonardi got free for a short try but Gibson cleared it from in front of the net.
The Mustangs offered their first good threats on set pieces from Gibson to Enrique Avellaneda around the half's midpoint.
East grabbed a 2-0 lead in the 24th minute on a nice sequence which led to Ortiz finding Manibog for his initial tally.
But Meadows answered just over a minute later when Kou Glaser fired in an attempt to slice the host's advantage in half.
After Manibog was denied right after that, the Mustangs evened things on Avellaneda's long free kick in the 26th minute.
The Saints had two more good opportunities before the break but efforts from Sterling and Robbins were both turned away.
"We came out strong with Zach and I each putting one in," Ortiz said. "I give Rolling Meadows great credit since they responded very well. They were a good team and they moved the ball well. At halftime, we talked about was how we were committing too many silly fouls and how we needed to go in hard on every tackle.
"Zach put a couple of good goals in and that really raised our confidence. We know that every team is going to get tougher as we go forward so we have to keep playing like we did in the second half. When we're clicking, we all work together as a unit. We also have great team chemistry and work hard for each other."