FRANKFORT — Nobody dreams about playing in the third-place match.
But both St. Viator and Wheaton Academy sure played like there was plenty at stake Saturday morning.
Goals on both sides of the half from Nick Winter and Kevin Klinkenberg lifted the Lions past the Warriors 2-1 and helped erase a disappointing first day at the Class 2A boys soccer state tournament.
“I told the boys before the game we were playing to win, but all 22 of our players would get some time,” said St. Viator coach Mike Taylor. “We accomplished both, which makes the day and season even better, and what else can I say but how proud I am of each and every player.”
The Lions’ victory (21-4-3) meant they fell one short of tying the program record set in 2003 behind all-state goakeeper Konrad Karasek.
“I think we were all set to play Peoria Notre Dame for the state title coming into the tournament,” said St. Viator tri-captain Troy Wheeler, who was superb all week long as the Lions earned their eighth fop-four finish in program history.
Wheeler said it was a tremendous let down not to reach the finals.
“But we came out (Saturday) and played like we knew we could to beat a very good team and bring home the third-place trophy,” he said.
Lions keeper Michael McGrath frustrated the Warriors (21-8-0) attack with two quality stops in the first-half. The first came on Gareth Flynn’s wicked drive at 23 minutes, then moments later the talented senior made a save on a well-placed free kick.
“I don’t think anyone believes we played our best soccer in our semifinal with (Urbana),” McGrath said. “If we played Friday the way we did (Saturday), we’d be out there warming up to play PND instead of talking to all of you.”
The Lions were looking good in the early stages, enjoying the greater share of possession.
The Warriors struggled to find their form and pace, no likely due to an emotional hangover still lingering following its loss in shootout over eventual state champion PND on Saturday. Coach Jeff Brooke’s club had its chances during a superb 100-minute performance in that match.
“We have a lot of respect for (Wheaton Academy) and for Jeff as well,” Taylor said. “He runs a first-class program, his kids play at a high level, and I am sure everyone involved in their program is very proud of them right now.”
Winter collected a loose ball to the left of Warriors keeper Spencer Graf. The play ended when Winters lashed a powerful low shot through to put the Lions on the scoreboard first at 17 minutes.
It looked as though the Lions had put their opponents away when they extended their lead on the hour as Winters swung an inviting cross to the foot of Klinkenberg. He steadied himself long enough before firing past Graf.
The Warriors desperately sought a way back into the match, and found one as junior Grant Stoneman calmly converted a penalty kick for his 29th goal of the season with 14 minutes remaining.
“We tightened things up after they cut our lead to 1, and held on during a frantic final seven to eight minutes or so to get the win,” Taylor said.
Senior Ashwin Cornelius, who looked to be done for the season after injuring an already-hurting knee against Urbana, somehow defied the odds to find his way into Taylor’s starting lineup to play his final prep contest.
“I felt pretty good during warm-up, and at that point, I felt there was no way that I wouldn’t play in this match,” said Cornelius, who wore the captain’s armband along with Wheeler and Jackson Owens this season.
“It was tough losing that match yesterday, but we came back to finish the season with a win,” Taylor said. “Our goal when we started out this season was to be playing on the last weekend of the season, and although we did not make it into the game that we all wanted, there’s still plenty of great memories to bring back from the year.”
Taylor will miss his seniors.
“They were a great group — we had them all out there at the end,” he said. “But we only started four, and that bodes well for next year with the type of core group that we’ve got coming back.
“The bar is always set high here and the boys did a great job of getting close to reaching that high standard.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.