Palatine will not have the opportunity to defend its conference title Thursday in the 37th MSL Cup, so the Pirates' focus is turning to a long, successful run in the postseason.
Palatine co-captain and two-time all-area senior Kyle Clancy feels his team has as good a chance as any when 3A regional play begins Oct. 22. And with Palatine (8-6-4) hosting a regional, Clancy and his teammates just might enjoy a fun week on their home turf.
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The Pirates earned a hard-fought 3-2 victory over host Lake Zurich at Mel Eide Field on Saturday, outlasting a long weather delay and 2 goals by the Bears' Miguel Hernandez to break a four-game winless streak and ensure a winning regular season with one match remaining.
The Bears completed their regular season at 6-9-4 and begin preparation for their regional opener against North Suburban Lake champion Lake Forest in one week.
"We've got (an MSL) crossover on Tuesday, then we get ready for Mundelein at home in our regional," said Clancy, a starter all four years in coach Willie Filian's program. "Now we turn our attention to our second season, which I feel can be a very good one if we get a few things cleaned up and sorted out.
"For a lot of us who are seniors, each game in reality could be our last one here, so we've got to play and lead like it is. If we do, there's no reason why we can't go far in the playoffs."
The host Bears and Hernandez feel a lot like Clancy and Palatine -- optimistic. Key for Lake Zurich's postseason is finally putting an injury-filled regular season in the rear-view mirror.
"We've never really been healthy this year -- someone has always been out," said Hernandez, who missed three weeks with a bruised bone in his foot. "But we've got the players to have a great postseason, so we've just got to be ready to go when we open with Lake Forest at regionals."
The threat of rain was in the air when the center official whistled the start of this annual nonconference contest. It stayed away until, except for a few sprinkles which appeared long after a 90-minute delay stopped the proceedings in the 44th minute.
Before the stoppage, it was a back-and-forth affair, with neither side garnering a high percentage of possession or run of play for most of the 80 minutes of soccer.
The Pirates took the lead at 16 minutes when a ball from Clancy up the left side pried open the Bears on the flank. After getting an assist, Tyler Curylo scored past diving Lake Zurich keeper Braven Bacardi.
The Bears drew level seven minutes later, thanks in part to a terrific individual effort from Jacob Karbowski. The junior broke free of his mark on the right side before unloading a well-paced low strike on frame, which bounded off keeper Kyle Leber and spilled free inside the 6-yard box.
Hernandez, who never stopped his center channel run, easily slotted past the fallen Leber.
Bacardi saved a header from Brian Mars after a long throw from Gavin Falotico, and moments later, a well-played counter from Falotico and Tadeo Lara ended with Alejandro Vidal steering his shot wide of Bacardi.
The Bears keeper could do nothing about the Pirates' second goal, which came off a nifty little side-footer in close from Mars, which was all possible because of the work Falotico and Erick Lule put in prior to the 34th-minute goal.
"It's been difficult finding any rhythm, or getting into a comfort zone because we've always had 2-3 guys out for each game, and its been typical of our season to lose or struggle in games we shouldn't," said Lake Zurich coach Mike Schmitz. "So it's hard to believe we weren't a 10-win team.
"It's kind of the way our season has gone this year, but hopefully with a little time to get healthy before the start of the playoffs we'll be able to compete with Lake Forest, then Hersey, if we get through to the final."
The Pirates would double their lead when Vidal made it 3-1 just after being brought on by Filian. The goal came on another set-piece following a long throw from Falotico. But the 2-goal advantage gained in the 65th minute quickly disappeared when Hernandez converted his penalty kick at 67 minutes.
Lake Zurich pushed forward in search of a tying goal, and with the help of Kevin Cihlar, who won nearly every ball in the air on his side, as well as Tim Burroughs, Ian Murray and Hernandez, the Bears did create a couple of quality chances before running out of time.
The best came when Burroughs put Hernandez through. If not for a fearless challenge from Leber off his line, Hernandez likely would have brought the Bears even at 75 minutes.