St. Viator (6-0-2) has reached the Pepsi Showdown semifinals against Lyons Township after beating top-seeded Warren 3-0 Thursday afternoon on a rain-soaked pitch in Arlington Heights.
The Lions will visit LaGrange this Saturday in a rematch; a game between St. Viator and Lyons played on the last day of August ended in a 2-2 draw.
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"The boys came to play today," said St. Viator coach Mike Taylor. "We scored 2 goals before the rain against a team with plenty of offensive firepower, and maybe gave our best effort of the season to get a well-earned victory."
The visiting Blue Devils (9-2-0) were stretched from the onset, conceding a pair of goals off set pieces. Their discomfort was intensified as they failed to find the back of the net despite creating a handful of quality chances, particularly in the first period.
"We had struggled early on in our set piece and dead-ball defending, but we worked hard to improve on it," said Warren coach Jason Ahonen. "But obviously, by today's result, we need to put more time into that part of our game."
Mateo Leudo guided his shot from close range into an open net at the back post after Spencer Moore started it all with a corner. Four minutes later, at 11 minutes, the junior doubled the Lions' lead after Moore's inward swinger from the near flag fell near the spot.
The Blue Devils argued that Moore should have initiated his corner from the far flag after the ball went off the endline on that side of the pitch. Nevertheless, the visitors were suddenly chasing the lead.
"It's so big to get a lead like that against a team that can attack in so many ways, but I really thought our back line did a good job of staying organized, especially when they added numbers in their attack," said standout St. Viator defender Troy Wheeler.
Although the vigor had appeared to be drained from the Blue Devils after allowing the 2 quick goals, Marquette-bound Daniel Szcezpanek and teammates Nick Wegrznowicz, Sean Kirwan and Auner Solis seemed to relieve the strain of the 2-goal deficit by motivating others with plenty of creative will. Warren got several chances at deep in St. Viator's end against Lions keeper Mike McGrath.
Accuracy eluded Warren when it failed to finish its best chances of the first period when Tony Severini missed an open net after being set up by Wegrznowicz at 34 minutes. Kirwan following with a drive over the same open net just moments later after Szcezpanek provided the helper.
"With all of our problems in our own end (defending) set pieces, we still managed to put ourself in a position to get one or two into the back of the net, which could have (maybe) turned things around for us -- but not on this day," said Ahonen.
The intensity of the rain rose after intermission, but despite the now slick conditions, the play from both sides was attractive as each side attacked with confidence.
McGrath won a pair of 50-50 balls away from Solis after he'd been put through by Wegrznowicz, and the Viator keeper also denied Szczepanek. Wheeler, Ethan Wolfe and Mark Tun stayed water-tight in the back for St. Viator, with the midfield duo of Ashwin Cornelius and Kevin Klinkenberg also doing their part.
"We played hard in that second half, because we knew they would come at us and try cut our lead in half," said Moore, who normally is stationed alongside Cornelius but was in the Lions' lineup as a forward with Jackson Owens (illness) out of the match.
Ryan Henry put an exclamation point on the Lions' victory with his 80th-minute goal on yet another Moore assist.
"We received a lot of good work from nearly everyone today to get another game with Lyons," said Taylor. "It should be a good one."