In the end, Wheeling's clinching of the Mid-Suburban East title came down to another great performance by -- who else? -- Jose Garcia.
The standout striker had a goal in each half as the Wildcats edged Palatine 2-1 to cement their spot in next Thursday's Mid-Suburban League championship matchup at Barrington.
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Gary Mendoza made 5 saves for Wheeling (15-1-2), and Francisco Arellano and Frank Estrada assisted on Garcia's goals.
St. Viator 3, Marist 0: Midfielder partners Kevin McMahon and Kevin Klinkenberg struck moments apart as host St. Viator grabbed a 2-goal advantage quickly in the first period before finishing off Marist (13-5-1, 6-1-1) with an impressive second half of soccer to move one step closer to an outright title in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.
The victory at Morris Stadium in Arlington Heights gave the Lions (14-3-1, 6-0-0) at a share of its 13th conference championship, with Joliet Catholic and Benet standing the way of an eighth outright title in program history.
"This felt good tonight after we lost a chance to win it all on the last day of the regular season to Benet (3-0) one year ago, but we've still got two more to go to win the ESCC all by ourselves," said Klinkenberg, who was in the middle of it all as the Redhawks bench erupted when it felt the Lions midfielder directed his goal in the 36th minute into the back of the net with his hand.
"We felt the officials really missed that one, but in reality, the focus should not have been on that call because the fact was, St. Viator was clearly the better team out there tonight," said Marist coach Sean Maxwell, who a night earlier watched his Redhawks' 11-game unbeaten win streak come to an end after drawing 0-0 with Marian Catholic. "They had way too much speed and pace for us, from front-to-back, and our inability to match that ultimately did us in."
After enjoying nearly all of the possession and run of play in the first half hour, the Lions saw a quality chance from Klinkenberg turned away by keeper Noah Kemp. However, just after the fine save by the Marist junior, Klinkenberg put Spencer Moore through, and the all-state candidate soon found himself hauled down in the box. McMahon drove his left-footed spot-kick low on the ground, and into the far inside corner.
Nick Winter, who leads the Lions with 15 goals, initiated a corner taken by McMahon, when an enterprising run up the left side was sent over the end line by a Marist defender.
McMahon's bending corner serve fell to Ethan Wolf at the edge, and his return header went straight down, then up and over the Marist defense, allowing Klinkenberg to score over the outstretched gloves of Kemp.
The second half of the first period and portions of the second half were quite chippy and led to several yellow cards, including a second on Carter Olson of Marist in the 73rd minute, ending the night for the junior.
"We knew it was important to play fast and quick on the turf, and not to get caught up in their game and just play ours," said Lions coach Mike Taylor, who along with his staff honored 18 seniors in his program during intermission.
Zack Gyuricza, who at times made the Redhawks defense look as if it were standing still, almost single-handedly put the visitors under pressure during the first quarter-hour of the new period. His left-footed bomb might have left a dent in the back post when he unleashed from 22 yards in the 55th minute.
Winter added another goal in the 58th minute, and then it was up to Wolf, Javier Romero and Mark Tun to ensure an easy night between the sticks for Tom Martin, who recorded the shutout.
"When we come to play like we did tonight, we can be a very dangerous ball club to play. Now we just need to finish it off this weekend in Joliet before Benet come here next Friday night," said Taylor.
-- Mike Garofola
Rolling Meadows 3, Elk Grove 1: David Zarate, Arthur Giedrojc and Michael D'Acquisto scored to help the host Mustangs wrap up MSL action with a victory.
Fremd 3, Conant 1: Nathan Dolan, Zach Schoffstall and Brock Von Holt each scored as the Vikings concluded league play with a victory.
Prospect 2, Schaumburg 0: Goals from Alex Whiteman and Chris Cooney helped the host Knights pick up an MSL win as goalkeeper Jack Cooney made 5 saves for the Knights.