When does a tie feel like a victory?
If you're St. Charles East's boys soccer team, it's when you come back from a 3-1 halftime deficit against Marmion with a pair of goals in the final 9 ½ minutes of the match.
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It's also when the tie propels you into the championship game of your own tournament.
Needing a tie to advance to Saturday's championship against Plainfield Central, the Saints (9-2-1) battled back to within 3-2 on a goal through traffic by junior midfielder Daniel DiLeonardi in the 70th minute before junior forward T.C. Hull notched the all-important equalizer on a low right-footed blast with 4:55 remaining.
The eventual 3-3 deadlock during Thursday night's third round of the 19th annual St. Charles East tournament enabled the Saints to win their Black Division pool play with a 2-0-1 mark (26 points to Marmion's 19).
"At halftime, we were upset with ourselves with the way we gave a couple away but we've got some good, hard-working lads on this team," said Saints coach Paul Jennison. "That's a testament to these guys. Sometimes a draw feels like a win, especially in this situation.
"The most important thing is that we stayed unbeaten in the first three games."
Hull, who gave the Saints a short-lived 1-0 lead just 3 ½ minutes into the match on a picture-perfect back header off a long throw-in pass from Michael Macek, fought off a defender to deliver the late tying tally.
"The ball was in the air and I had a guy on my back so I shoved him off and I took a hit and luckily it went in," said Hull. "We knew a tie would get us through (to the title match) so getting that third goal was great."
The Cadets, who were outshot 15-1 in the second half, were forced to play the last 35 minutes of the match short-handed after Luke DeSimone was issued a red card following his second yellow card for an intentional hand ball.
"When we're down a man against a quality team like St. Charles East, it's just that much harder for us," said Cadets coach Ricky DelToro. "Our boys have to work that much harder to keep the two-goal lead. When you're down a man and they're pressing hard, it's tough."
After falling behind 1-0, the Cadets capitalized on their first-half scoring opportunities.
Flynn Collins scored the tying goal off a cross from Trevor Jones less than 2 minutes after the Saints had struck first, and freshman forward Conor Morton gave Marmion a 2-1 lead midway through the half off a free kick from Matt Switzer.
Peter West netted the Cadets' third goal with 1:56 left in the opening half after a Saints defender fanned on a clearing pass.
"Coming into this game, we knew that they're a fast team and a high-pressing team," DelToro said of the Saints. "They've been scoring goals left and right so our strategy was to hold back a little bit and counter. We got three goals off the counter. Unfortunately, that one more man was a big difference."
Having outscored their last 4 foes by a combined 29-3 margin, the Saints found themselves in unfamiliar territory heading into the final 40 minutes.
"I said to them at halftime, 'I'm going to learn a lot about you today,'" said Jennison. "I'm going to find out who is going to step up and find out who the men on the team are. They did what they had to do in the second half."