Spencer Graf gave Wheaton Academy every opportunity Friday afternoon to advance to its first state soccer championship match.
Unfortunately for the senior goalkeeper and his Warriors teammates, however, Justin Buck was even better for Peoria Notre Dame.
Buck denied Wheaton Academy on three of its four penalty-kick attempts, and Notre Dame senior forward Drew Whalen converted.
With its 3-1 advantage in penalty kicks Peoria Notre Dame (21-2-2) advanced to its sixth boys soccer state championship since 2001. The two teams played to a 1-1 draw in the first semifinal of the Class 2A tournament at Lincoln-Way North High School in Frankfurt.
Wheaton Academy (21-7), making its first state appearance since the Class A tournament in 2005, will play St. Viator, which dropped a 2-1 decision to Urbana, in the third-place match at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Andrew Luetkehans’ low runner inside the left post was the lone penalty kick Buck did not save for Notre Dame.
“We practice (penalty kicks) in practice all the time,” Buck said. “You can tell which way they’re going. I knew I had to make a few saves and the team would do the rest.”
It was a clinic by the two keepers the entire match; Graf, with Notre Dame peppering him with shots left and right, kept the Warriors fighting the whole time.
Wheaton Academy appeared to be in prime position when Graf stopped the first two Notre Dame penalty kicks, but Buck promptly did likewise to Wheaton Academy.
“Penalty kicks, you have a 50-50 chance,” Graf said. “It comes down to a split-second decision. (Buck) came up huge for them.”
Whalen, who broke the scoreless draw with a low scooter 10-plus minutes into the second half, mathematically eliminated the Warriors in PKs.
The match was characterized by quality chances by both teams, and each squad had a goal disallowed — Wheaton Academy 90 seconds into the contest on an offside call, while Notre Dame had a second-half goal nullified due to a hand ball.
Notre Dame had unquestionably more numerous scoring chances, but the nuances of the sport came to the forefront with less than eight minutes to play.
Wheaton Academy junior Casey Zimmerman, after a mad scramble in a congested Notre Dame goal crease, had just enough muster on his header to score the equalizer.
“Today was just a game of adrenaline,” the St. Charles resident said. “It was just a workhorse goal. (The header) took a weird spin and bounced in.”
Grant Stoneman nearly scored a couple of times in regulation for Wheaton Academy.
The junior midfielder had a blistering free kick viciously bounce off the crossbar in the second half, and Buck made a sprawling save on his equally hard-struck 30-yarder in the last 45 seconds of the second overtime.
“What a great save that was,” Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said.
Notre Dame entered the semifinal with 27 goals in its five postseason matches, but Graf was masterful all day with his 11 saves.
“Spencer Graf played phenomenal,” Brooke said.
“We played our best,” Zimmerman said “We just lost.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.