Second-half goals from Riker Tithof-Steere and Oliver Horgan guided No. 2 seed Lake Park to a hard-fought 2-0 victory Wednesday night over No. 3 Elk Grove in Class 3A sectional semifinal play in the rain at Schaumburg.
The Lancers (19-2-3) earn a rematch with top seed St. Charles East (20-1-4) in Saturday's 3 p.m. sectional final at Schaumburg.
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The Grens, who'd advanced through their own regional with consecutive overtime victories over Leyden and Addison Trail, bow out at 11-6-2 under first-year coach Rob Shepard.
"We devised a good tactical plan to stop (Lark Park's Mike) Catalano with strict man-marking from Jersson Pachar, who played very little this year but was tremendous in his work trying to slow their top player," said Shepard.
Lake Park coach Anthony Passi was pleased to advance after a rugged game, making it a special day for him in more than one way.
"That was our most physical game we played this year, and (Elk Grove) did well to force us to rely less on Mike. So on a night like this, and in the rain, we had to find other ways to get in -- and Riker and Oliver did just that to give me maybe my best birthday ever," said Passi, who heard several choruses of happy birthday from his players and a big Lancers following the match.
A steady rain on an unusually mild late October night greeted the two clubs, as did Pachar, who was assigned to shadow the Wisconsin-bound Catalano, an all-state midfielder.
Joe Keane and Catalano both tested Grens keeper Alberto Centeno with well-driven long strikes in the first 10 minutes.
The Grens' master plan of slowing Catalano appeared to be working well during the first quarter-hour, but it also seemed to inhibit Elk Grove's own attack. The Grens were unable to build out of the back through Manny Pillado and top-flight midfielder Gio Garcia.
"It was a tough night to play, not only because of the rain, but also because of the tight play and hard tackling, which really made it difficult to possess, especially through the middle of the field," said Keane.
The Lancers had success defending Elk Grove forwards Jonathan Arzeta and David Bahena, but in the last 10 minutes before the break, Elk Grove won back most of the run of play.
The second half was only three minutes old when the Lancers scored.
"Riker did a great job getting in position to head my corner to give us the lead," said Keane.
The Lancers got a scare from a 45-yard blast by Arnold Aguillar which skimmed the bar at 53 minutes. But Lake Park quickly recovered got their feet back under them.
Centeno made a brilliant acrobatic save to stop a point-blank Horgan shot moments later.
Shepard then pushed Pillado up top to give Elk Grove four strikers, but Horgan put the finishing touches on the Lancers' victory with a goal in the 73rd minute made possible by a nonstop run into the box.
"We couldn't have asked for much more from these guys," said Shepard. "The effort was terrific all year long and in the postseason. They battled in each match to put themselves in a position to play for a chance to reach a sectional final, and I am very proud of each guy on this team right now."
Lake Park lost to St. Charles East 5-1 way back in early September. But Passi's team assembled a 13-1-2 run which included a 2-1 win over Naperville Central to all but close out Central for the top spot in the DuPage Valley Conference.
"It's all about team chemistry, hard work and playing with a lot of pride," said Passi. "And this team has all of that and more."