Class 3A Bartlett supersectional
The matchup: Larkin (12-10-4) vs. Lake Park (20-2-3)
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When and where: 6 p.m. today at Millennium Field (Streamwood High School)
Outlook: Former Upstate Eight Conference foes meet to attempt what neither program has accomplished: earn a berth to state.
Larkin won the first sectional in school history with a 1-0 win over McHenry on Saturday while Lake Park, which last won a sectional in 1993, shut out powerhouse St. Charles East on the same day by the same score for its 20th win of the season, its 16th win in 18 games.
The path for Lake Park was treacherous. The Lancers easily dismantled Bartlett 5-1 in the regional semi, then blanked Wheaton Warrenville South 3-0 for the regional title. Next came a win over Elk Grove 2-0 prior to the win over St. Charles East. The Lancers have gone three straight postseason games without allowing a goal as goalkeeper Steven Mack and the Lake Park defensive front have made the Lancers a different team over the past few games.
"St. Charles East was a very physical game, but that Elk Grove game was by far one of the most, I would say most physical game in our year," said Lancers coach Tony Passi. "And when get to St. Charles East and that was a battle. I think the thing is our defense is shutting those guys down. The other thing is we're winning the battle in the midfield, getting that possession and moving forward."
The Lancers have been led by forward Oliver Horgan of late with 5 postseason goals. He scored the game-winner against St. Charles East off Joe Keane's corner kick, which was all set up by Wisconsin-bound midfielder Mike Catalano, who has 4 goals in the playoffs. Passi believes if the Lancers control the midfield, it may be the difference in advancing to state.
"If we can pressure them up and down the field and keep the ball off their feet we've got a pretty good shot," Passi said. "If we play the pressure we did against Elk Grove and St. Charles East and create the opportunities with our midfield we have a pretty good shot at it.
"We have to test (Larkin goalie Aldair Dominguez), test him in net. He's gotten Larkin to this point. They're there for a reason."
A Larkin supersectional appearance was well overdue. Eight times in the last 10 years the Royals have been a regional champion but not a sectional champ until now.
"We've been to the sectional championship so many times and haven't won it, it just feels great to get over that hump and actually win one. It gives us a chance to be the first (soccer) team to ever get to state from our school," said Royals coach Ken Hall.
The Royals did not look primed for a state run. Without goalie Leo Perez (broken arm) and an 0-5-1 record in their last six regular-season games, the Royals rattled off an improbable run by ousting a 19-0-1 Dundee-Crown team in PKs 2-1 in the regional semi and a PK win over South Elgin in the final.
Larkin won the Huntley sectional by beating Hononegah 2-0 in the semis and then squeaking past McHenry and did so with a different player stepping up each night. Forward Alex Cruz notched the sectional final game-winner. Midfielder Hector Mendoza and forward Pancho Garcia came through in the semi with goals. Moises Raya had the game-tying goal in the regional final and Mendoza and Garcia have buried winners in each of the PK wins.
"I don't think if you were to scout our team you would identify one or two players where you say, 'Oh God, you've got to stop them to beat Larkin,' " Hall said. "I think our talent base is pretty equal and spread out. I think that's one of the factors we've had. Anybody can score. We just don't have that one superstar player we had in Erik Rodriguez the past couple of years."
Dominguez has two shutouts in the sectional round and big saves in the PK wins. "The last four games has been the best four games he's played in his high school career, there's no doubt about it," Hall said. "He's stepped it up being a senior, stepped it up at the right time."
So what's the key for Larkin against a team it hasn't seen all year?
"(Lake Park plays a) very good defense and their keeper is excellent. Their back-four looks like they're very solid, but obviously the key is to stop (Catalano)," Hall said. "If we can stop him from doing what he wants to do on the field distributing, taking shots, that'll give us our best chance win."
Advancement: The winner of the Bartlett supersectional plays the winner of the Hersey supersectional in a Class 3A semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday at Hoffman Estates High School. Barrington and Wheeling meet in the Hersey supersectional tonight.