Fourth-seeded Libertyville survived a tough postseason test by a spirited side from Prospect with a riveting 2-1 victory in a Class 3A boys soccer sectional semifinal Tuesday at Conant.
The outcome ended a stellar playoff run from the No. 16 seed Knights (10-9-3) and puts the Wildcats into Friday's sectional final at Conant against North Suburban Conference rival Stevenson.
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Nick Vogel sealed the triumph for the Wildcats (17-2-1) with a brilliant 57th-minute goal, just six minutes after teammate Austin Bitta finally brought the Cats even after Matt Wruskyj had stunned the favorites just minutes into the second period.
"Prospect scoring first was exactly what we needed, because we played so soft and just without much emotion or energy in that first half," said Vogel, who'd missed extensive time due to injury. "But I knew once Austin got us even, that another one was on the way soon.
"(Prospect was) much quicker than we expected, and they played hard and really came at us, but once we got back to playing the way we're capable of in the second half, things turned around for us."
The Wildcats were up against it from the opening whistle, and it wasn't long before keeper Alex Schory was called upon to save a glorious chance from Joe Tuczak in close to keep the match goal-less.
Near the quarter-hour, Alex Whiteman nearly found Kennedy McNamara at the back post with a timely crossfield serve as the Knights, even without much of the possession, still managed to be the more dangerous side.
Bitta, Vogel, Nathan Edmunds and Lloyd Chatfield III began to put some passes together after the Whiteman serve to help temper Prospect's confidence, and it wasn't long before the Wildcats were pouring forward and creating a few chances for themselves.
Prospect keeper Jack Cooney stopped Vogel off a long throw from Alex Prillaman, then held his breath when Chatfield tricked his way into the box. But the chance ended without a shot.
After a burst of energy for 10-plus minutes, the Wildcats' attack stalled in the final stages of the first half. And once again, the Knights grabbed back the run of play.
"We did a good job of withstanding all of their pressure, and then it kind of ended when they didn't get one into the back of the net, and that's when I felt we had a good chance of coming out of here with a win," said Prospect coach Kurt Trenkle.
Whiteman created a turnover in the Libertyville end and helped spring free Wruskyj, who didn't hesitate to drive home a low shot under Schory from 16 yards.
The goal in the 47th minute was nearly duplicated less than 60 seconds later when Tuczak ran onto a loose ball and fired from point-blank distance at Schory. He probably wouldn't have had a chance to stop it, but fortunately for Libertyvill,e it was blocked on the way through.
"That second one might have done it," Trenkle said.
Instead, the Wildcats roared back, first with a brilliant touch on an angled shot by Bitta at 51 minutes.
Soon after, Bitta put his teammate through with a wicked diagonal ball. Vogel guided it past Cooney, who had no chance to stop the eventual game-winner.
"Once we grabbed back the momentum, we knew we could finally put this one away for good," said Vogel.
"It's been a great run that we've had in the playoffs, one that will certainly remember, and I believe the team will as well," said Trenkle.