Wheaton Academy turned a difficult start of the season into a berth in this weekend's Class 2A finals.
The Warriors fell behind 2-0 Saturday, scored a late goal to cut the deficit in half, but were unable to tally the equalizer over the final 15 minutes. They finished their historic season with a 2-1 loss and a fourth-place trophy.
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The Warriors were 6-5 on Sept. 15 but went 14-1 to earn the first trip to state in school history.
On Saturday the Warriors faced the tough task of trying to rebound from Friday's semifinal loss to Peoria Notre Dame, which was settled on penalty kicks, and take on a St. Viator team that handed them their final loss of the regular season, 3-2 on Sept. 29.
"To get fourth place in 2A is a fantastic accomplishment," Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said. "You lose two games in 24 hours and it feels weird, but in another 24 hours we'll be thrilled when we look back at the year and how we played and represented our school."
St. Viator (21-4-3) took a 1-0 lead into halftime. The Lions scored in the 16th minute when junior Nick Winter pounced on a throw-in from Ethan Wolfe and sent it out of reach of Warriors goalkeeper Spencer Graf.
The game was extremely physical. It appeared early as if both squads were testing how far they could push things before the officials stepped in. For the most part, they let the players play.
"They let a lot go today in comparison to yesterday," Brooke said. "But it was tough to come back from that double overtime loss and I was proud with how the guys came out."
Wheaton Academy (21-8-0) fell behind midway through the second half when Winter threaded a perfect cross to Kevin Klinkenberg, who gave the Lions the insurance goal that they would ultimately need.
Grant Stoneman scored on a penalty kick, his 29th goal of the season, with 14:41 remaining to make it a 2-1 contest, but the Warriors couldn't force overtime. Much of that had to do with the Lions, who limited scoring chances the rest of the contest. Stoneman's best chance came with 8:36 remaining, but goalkeeper Michael McGrath had no difficulty making the save.
"We didn't keep our composure very well in the first half," Stoneman said. "We got that unlucky call on the goal but thought we settled down in the second half but gave up another one before we got one back. We kept fighting but just couldn't get that last one."
Both teams headed to Frankfort in hopes on playing for a state title but didn't appear to let that disappointment diffuse into this consolation match.
"I'm very proud of (the Lions) and I'm proud of Wheaton Academy too," Lions coach Mike Taylor said. "So I'm pleased. It was a good weekend."
Wheaton Academy will lose four starters to graduation, and while some of those losses are big ones, they'll have a great group back next fall, led by Stoneman and Casey Zimmerman.
"I think we'll have a good shot of getting better than fourth again," Stoneman said. "At least most of the players on our team now know what it's like (at state) for next year."