It hardly seems possible that a No. 15 seed would navigate through higher-seeded waters all the way to the promised land of a Class 3A boys soccer sectional championship.
Strange as it may seem, that's what Buffalo Grove (8-8-6) will be doing this Friday when it meets top seed and Mid-Suburban League rival Barrington in the Mundelein sectional final.
The Bison got off to a rip-roaring start, then held off a furious fight-back from another overachiever, No. 14 seed Carmel Catholic, before finishing off the Corsairs 2-1 in the second semifinal match of the night at Mundelein. Earlier, No. 1 Barrington (18-3-4) cruised to a 3-0 victory over Lake Forest.
"You look back and see how many tight matches we were in during the regular season, and how many of those we fell short in because we couldn't score or we ended up with a draw, but maybe our fortune is turning in our favor, and at the best time of the season," said Buffalo Grove coach Rick Carlson.
The Bison could not have asked for a better start, with Todor Dimitrov striking in the first minute. He took a splendid ball from the left side by Pat Tucharski, which allowed the junior striker to engineer just enough space before firing past keeper Jacob Spheeris.
"Pat got us going tonight with that great through ball, and his constant running and terrific work rate was the inspiration we needed in a big game like this," Carlson said. "His effort likely was his best game of the season for us."
Carmel reacted well to the disappointing sequence.
"You never want to allow a goal that early," said Corsairs coach Ray Krawzak. "But we didn't panic, and I don't really feel that it affected us too much because shortly thereafter we got ourselves back into the game."
The Corsairs (12-8-3) finally found their form, much to the delight of a big crowd, which traveled just a few minutes west from their home environs. The senior duo of Evan Potter and Adam Cloe provided pace and energy as they shared the ball well attacked, mostly on the left side.
"Nos. 6 and 10 (Potter and Cloe) gave us a lot of trouble tonight, and we had our hands full with each of them, especially in the first half," said Carlson.
The best chance of the first period for Carmel fell to Potter, who followed a well-aimed free kick from Timmy Karich. BG keeper Ricardo Valencia stopped initially before the ball spilled free near the spot. Valencia then stopped a close-range shot from Potter at 27 minutes.
The Corsairs were slowing growing in confidence, and just moments before intermission, they tied it up when Jeremy Jenich raced into the box to head a wonderful bending corner from Karich.
"We grabbed back the momentum, and even though it kind of fell off a little after the break, I thought we came back to create some quality chances and outshot them in the process," Krawzak said. "But we just couldn't put another in, much like we did earlier in the year."
The game-winner came with a bit of luck attached to it, when Daniel Ramirez's 40-yard free kick, struck with plenty of extra pace, sailed past Spheeris and high into the back of the net in the 52nd minute.
"Jacob got us into this game because of his great work against St. Viator, then Fremd, and it was just unfortunate that free kick got in," said Krawzak. "But No. 11 (Ramirez) hit a couple more long balls just like that which Jacob pulled down."
Just after the go-ahead goal, Spheeris was called upon to stop Sean King to keep his club close, and after that, much of the play for the rest of regulation was in the Bison end, as the Corsairs went about trying to tie it back up.
Potter rushed into the box to hit an early ball sent in and watched Allan Santiaguillo parry away his shot on frame. Minutes later, Potter headed wide at the back post after a lovely serve from Karich.
Both Keenan Walsh and Drew Miller each had a go at Valencia, but the senior saved both times.
"Allan was terrific all night long in the back, Zach (Masciopinto) ran and ran for 80 minutes, to give us the energy we needed when we got down," Carlson said. "And from all that, we're still alive and kicking."