It was not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, but the top-seeded Stevenson boys water polo team managed to hold off No. 2 McHenry for the championship of the Palatine sectional Saturday afternoon.
The game featured back-and-forth action the entire way with the Patriots (24-8) holding off a late rally by the Warriors (17-7-1) to capture a 16-15 victory and advance to the Elite Eight next Friday in their own pool. Stevenson will face Lockport in the semifinals at 8:15 p.m.
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The Patriots got contributions from a wide variety of players in the high-scoring contest, including 4 goals by senior Alex Shkiler and 3 goals apiece by Chris Hodges, Mitchell Sokolsky and Kyle Plotsky.
But one of the other heroes for the Pats was junior goalkeeper Rob O'Brien, who came up with 15 saves to help preserve the narrow victory and send Stevenson to state after struggling to a 5-25 record just last season.
"Playing defense has been a real struggle and (McHenry) kept taking advantage of the opportunities we gave them," said Stevenson coach Sean Wimer, whose team is heading to the Elite Eight for the fourth time in six years. "But our goalkeeper was huge today. He's one of the top goalies in the state of Illinois."
A goal by Lucas Matthys gave the Warriors a 4-3 lead after one quarter, before a goal by Shkiler capped a string of 4 unanswered goals to give the Patriots a 7-5 lead at halftime.
Sokolsky's goal made it 5 unanswered goals 10 seconds into the third quarter, but a rebound goal by McHenry's Matt Pack finally broke up the Stevenson momentum 21 seconds later.
A penalty shot by Plotsky made the score 9-6, but the Warriors stormed back with a penalty shot by Dylan Clohessy (8 goals), deadlocking the score at 9-9 with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
The Pats would not be discouraged, though. Goals by Plotsky, Hodges and Hasan Khan gave them a 12-9 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
"Throughout the whole game we had some foul trouble so we had to stay cool and play how we know we can play," said Shkiler. "If we keep playing like we've been playing, I think we can go pretty far. We've got a lot of good players."
Sokolsky's penalty shot made the score 13-9 with 6:03 to play, before his goal into the left corner of the net made it 16-12 with 3:03 remaining.
Trailing 16-14, McHenry added a penalty shot goal on a questionable call with 20 seconds left to cut the gap to 16-15. But Stevenson was able to run out the clock to seal the win.
"We were in foul trouble and this was really a total team effort," Wimer said. "I can't compliment these kids enough. This is the hardest-working group of kids I've ever coached."