Falcons surprise Hilltoppers in regional semifinals
By Curt Herron
Wheaton North's players made a statement when they sported mohawk haircuts as they kicked off postseason play on Tuesday.
But the Falcons were more interested in sending another kind of signal in their Class 3A Glenbard East Regional semifinal.
Despite being seeded 12th in the Schaumburg Sectional, Wheaton North was convinced that it could challenge for the regional.
Glenbard West found that out the hard way as the Falcons scored twice in the second half to claim a 2-0 victory in Lombard.
As a result, North (6-11-1) advances to Saturday's 3 p.m. championship against Glenbard North, which defeated the host Rams.
The Falcons and Panthers met last Tuesday in Wheaton with the visitors prevailing 3-2 in the DuPage Valley Conference match.
Jason Szumski scored off of an assist from Zach Oslund in the 45th minute to put the Falcons ahead for good in the contest.
Then in the 48th minute, Aaron Deeke set up Dan Norton for the other goal as the Falcons made the most of limited chances.
Meanwhile, keeper Alex Jiskra withstood a steady attack by the Hilltoppers to post his squad's third shutout of the season.
Armand Torres returned from injury to join Sam Beasley, Jeremy Stapleton, Oslund and Ethan Taira on defense for the Falcons.
"Our last word before we walked out to start the game was 'Together'", Falcons coach Tim McEvilly said. "Our success comes from a a collection of 22 guys trying to make everybody better and being dependent on each other.
"I do think that there were lots of different moments where one player after another did what needed to be done to help us put a ball in the back of the net or to clear a ball away from danger.
"Both of our goals came off of quick plays and fast decisions. Out throw-ins come off of forcing the ball down the line and playing at speed and we're extraordinarily dangerous on those throw-ins and corner kicks."
Fifth-seed West (9-5-3) had prided itself on its defensive play, having allowed just 11 goals all season prior to Tuesday.
Antioch scored four times against Maciej Kusmierz's team early in the year and no one else had collected more than one goal.
The only other Hilltopper losses came by 1-0 scores to a trio of top teams, Hinsdale Central, Lyons Township and Lake Park.
Meanwhile, the Falcons posted their biggest win of the season as they secured their first regional finals trip since 2009.
"Glenbard West had a fantastic season," McEvilly said. "They have a lot of kids who are strong players and we did a great tonight of reducing a lot of their danger. The guys up top and our back line took them out of play.
"All of the chances that we gave up to them, for the most part, came from like 25 or 30 yards out. We were in good position and I thought that we defended well.
"I thought that we did a great job of setting a tone for the game in the first 20 minutes of the first half. They didn't get a chance to get a rhythm early but picked it up in the second 20 minutes.
"In the final part of the first half, (west's) Paul Selman kind of started to own the middle of the park more so in the second half we just tried to play quicker so he wouldn't have an opportunity to slow us down."
West nearly moved in front in the first minute of the new half when Mario Sotelo made a long run before sending a try wide.
The Falcons made the most of their initial chance of the final 40 minutes, however, and that put them in the driver's seat.
Oslund sent a throw-in that went across the box to Szumski, who fired off an attempt that found the other side of the net.
"We got our chances early in the second half and we capitalized on them and then from that point on, we just held it," Szumski said. "At halftime we felt that we were playing pretty well. we just had to stick to our plan and with what we were doing and it led to a win.
"We knew that if we came out with mohawks that we had to back it up and I thought that we did a good job of that. We've been playing hard teams the whole year and this was another team that played very well and was composed, but we stuck to our game plan and pulled it out.
"We're playing well now and this is a good time to be playing well. This is a solid group of guys and we have good team chemistry and you can see that on the field. We're very excited about playing Glenbard North again. They're a great team and we know that we'll have to play well to get them."
North nearly made it 2-0 a bit later when Nathan Atkinson placed a corner kick into the box but Szumski's header was halted.
The Hilltoppers weren't as fortunate shortly after that, however, when Deeke found Norton, who connected from close-range.
Following a long free kick from Oslund that Robert White secured, the Hilltoppers went on the attack in the last half hour.
William Lanzillo sent a try wide, Jiskra stopped an Ian Winans shot and David Ortega's header was deflected by a defender.
After an Oslund free kick was headed away, Lanzillo had a try deflected and Jamie Hernandez bounced one off the crossbar.
In the final 20 minutes, Connor Ritchie had a liner headed away by Robert Schoeneich and Lanzillo was thwarted on two tries.
Jiskra hauled in liners from Hernandez and John Emanuel sandwiched around an attempt from the side from Atkinson to White.
The Hilltoppers kept threatening down the stretch, beginning with a Nathan Gaertner try that hit a Falcon and went wide.
The subsequent corner by Sotelo was headed away and North's keeper halted a late shot by Ivan Barajas to secure the shutout.
"This win was insane," Beasley said. "We've been through a lot the last couple of years and had way too many games in which we feel that we've fallen short when we should have gotten the victory.
"So to finally come out and get a big win like this is a huge step for the program and I'm just really happy for us. Our team has some great camaraderie and we really appreciate each other.
"We all make up for each other in the back and when one person messes up, the other person is there to cover. We've been working hard all year so it's great to finally have a game like this."
By comparison, there weren't nearly as many good chances before the break and most of those came as the half progressed.
After Jiskra halted a long effort by Shawn Herrera, Atkinson countered with an attempt that was cleared away by Barajas.
West had a good opportunity at the half's midpoint when Jiskra came out of the net but Lanzillo's long attempt went wide.
It was all Hilltoppers in the final quarter hour of the opening half, starting with an Ortega shot which was deflected.
Following a long free kick from Barajas, Lanzillo sent a liner wide and then Hernandez did the same thing on an attempt.
West kept on threatening right up until the break, getting a dangerous free kick from Ortega shortly before the whistle.