Warriors top Fenton, move on to sectional
By Dave Owen
A tie game for the first 54 minutes of the Class 2A Glenbard South Regional final suddenly became Ty's game.
Ty Seager’s three-goal hat trick in a time span of just over 12 minutes powered Wheaton Academy to a 3-1 win over Fenton in glen Ellyn on Friday.
The victory gives the Warriors (19-3-1) their sixth regional title in the last seven years and sends them to next week's Burlington Central Sectional.
Wheaton Academy plays Belvidere on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the sectional semifinals. The Bucs advanced with an 8-1 victory over Hampshire on Friday.
“Something big that we mentioned at halftime was winning 50-50 balls, especially in the regional final playing a really tough team,” said Seager, whose team was in a frustrating 0-0 deadlock before his trio of finishes.
“There are balls you need to go up for and challenge. On the first goal we won a 50-50 ball, connected passes and stuff happened.”
Sam Hardy won a contested ball just inside midfield and dribbled up the middle before finding Reid Culberson sprinting in left of the box.
Culberson’s 15-yard shot was blocked by Fenton’s goalkeeper, but Seager pounced on the rebound for a 10-yard shot and a 1-0 lead.
“I saw Sam in the middle of the field so I shot through the gap,” Culberson said. “I initially saw the right corner open and I missed (on the keeper’s save), but luckily Ty was there to finish off.
“After the first goal went in it was just momentum. The whole mindset changed and good things happen when people start shooting. We started putting balls on frame and they started going in.”
The Warriors’ offense clicked after a frustrating scoreless majority of the match that included two shots off the crossbar.
And even a Fenton threat to reverse the momentum late in the game was quickly answered.
With Wheaton Academy up 2-0, a cross from right of the goal by Fenton’s David Ortega with 14:14 left was headed up in the air by a Warriors’ defender and somehow sailed into the far corner of the net to shockingly cut the lead in half.
But just 44 seconds later, Seager broke in on left wing, fought off a defender and lined a 12-yard rocket into the far corner of the net to complete his hat trick and return command right back to the Warriors.
“I know our defense doesn’t let up easy and mistakes don’t come often to our defense and GK,” Seager said. “But stuff happens and the ball slips through sometimes. I just knew we had to answer, especially with momentum switching.”
The quick bounce back from a bad bounce impressed Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke.
“Those are the moments when you’re just proud of persistence, to believe in what we’re doing,” Brooke said. “Obviously the ball finds its way into our goal, and I still can’t tell you how that happened. But it did, and we kept moving forward to get the third.
“And that was obviously a great individual play by Ty. I’m proud of him.”
Defender Zeb Lewis also returned from a late season injury with a play to be proud of.
With 17:38 left and his team up 1-0, Lewis’ nice pass from just inside midfield connected with Seager up the middle. Seager did the rest with a 15-yard drive that made the lead 2-0.
“It’s good to have Zeb Lewis back at left back,” Brooke said. “He made a great play through the middle and slotted the ball on the second goal, but that looked a lot like the first with a good combination play.
“Individuals were rising up and choosing to combine, and we’ve been working on connecting all year. Obviously we did that over and over and we got three of them, so that’s good.”
Except for the fluke goal, the Warriors’ defense was also very good.
“I thought our back four was strong tonight,” Brooke said of defenders Lewis, Marshall West, Daniel Bergquist, Parker Setran and top reserve Hunter Finnegan.
“They (Fenton) play a system we don’t see regularly, a version of a 3-5-2 that not many teams play, and it looked different to our back four. But I thought we did a great job of adjusting. We were really able to slow No. 8 (Ortega) down, who’s a great player.”
Goalkeeper Drew Sezonov also rose to the challenge when needed, particularly on a nice sliding kick save at the left post 15:30 before halftime that kept the score 0-0.
At the other end, Wheaton Academy’s offense was generating challenge after challenge.
The first came in the fifth minute, when a sliding block at the top of the box by Fenton goalkeeper David Sanchez denied Seager’s break up the middle (off a nice Bergquist pass).
Then two minutes later, a diving catch by Sanchez stopped Casey Zimmerman’s 12-yard shot.
A diving deflection wide of the right post on Hardy’s 25-yard blast 29:30 before halftime continued Sanchez’s big half.
In the 27th minute, Warrior frustration grew when Michael Carver’s point-blank header off a Lucas Hoepner corner kick hit the crossbar and bounced straight down into the crease for clearance by a Fenton defender.
“The biggest frustration of the first half was not winning 50-50s,” Culberson said. “That was a real game changer.”
But not before more metal madness three minutes into the second half, when Hardy’s 25-yard straight on drive caromed off the crossbar for another near miss.
“We had a bunch of opportunities in the first half and early in the second,” Seager said. “Something we always say is to try to bury 50 percent of our chances. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t go in, but you have to rise up and put those away.”
“Anytime you’re in a regional against a good team with a great goalkeeper, you have to find a way to get through,” Brooke said. “I was proud of our guys for being persistent and continuing to break through their back line.”
Those efforts finally paid off multiple times in the second half, allowing the Warriors to continue their quest to duplicate or exceed last year’s trip to the Class 2A state semifinals.
“Now we go to a sectional (at Burlington Central) with teams that we haven’t seen, nor do we have many common opponents,” Brooke said. “I know Burlington has a great record and is having a nice year, but we have to take care of business before that (game) even happens.”
A stronger start will be one goal.
“I felt like in the first half we weren’t very connected,” Culberson said. “Possession was very dippy dodgy. We weren’t working well together, so that’s going to be a key moving forward.”
Friday’s win added another trophy to Wheaton Academy’s rich soccer history.
“It’s big,” Seager said. “This is probably one of the hardest regionals we’ve been in, and one of the best teams we’ll see in a regional final.”
But the Warriors will continue to aim higher as November nears.
“It’s just another step in the process,” Culberson said of the regional win. “You’re happy, but it doesn’t take away any of the hunger that you have.”