Lake Park junior midfielder Giovanni Ciaccio had the choice this fall of either playing at Sockers Academy in Palatine or in Roselle for the Lancers.
After his de-facto game-winning header off a Mike Catalano free kick in the 65th minute in Lake Park's 2-0 Class 3A Bartlett supersectional win over Larkin Tuesday at Millennium Field in Streamwood, it's safe to say Ciaccio's choice to be in Lancer blue was a good one.
It was Ciaccio's second game back from a broken leg suffered in the Prairie Ridge tournament against Maine South on Sept. 21.
Lake Park (21-2-3) will make its first appearance in the state finals Friday at 5 p.m. at Hoffman Estates, where the Lancers will meet Wheeling, a 2-1 winner over Barrington Tuesday in the Hersey supersectional. "I saw we could have the potential to go far this year and make it to state so I decided to come and it's happened," said Ciaccio, who cashed in on Larkin goalie Aldair Dominguez's initial deflection on Catalano's free kick from 35 yards out. "Mike's had two shots this game and both times he hit the ball, it wasn't a clean save by the goalie and I thought maybe just the same thing this time and I saw him line up for the free kick. I just crashed the box and it came out and I got lucky on the bounce."
The key to Ciaccio's goal was Catalano drawing a foul in the open field on a 50-50 ball that set up the free kick, a kick that could have gone in.
"I saw the space and I just attacked. I got lucky to get the foul," the Wisconsin-bound Catalano said. "I just put the ball on target. That's all you have to do, put it on target. We got a deflection from the keeper, bobbled it, and Gio was right there to put it in. That's all it takes."
"It was a great shot. It hit one of my players and my reaction, my reflex, was to punch it out and the guy came in and scored it. I probably could have tried grabbing it but it was just last-second there," said Dominguez, who had 6 saves. "They were just a better team and you've got to except it."
Catalano notched his 10th assist and also scored the insurance goal, his 29th on the season, on a breakaway with 5:08 left to conclude a sloppy game.
"This game was kind of ugly and I don't think we came out mentally prepared to play (Larkin)," Catalano said. "We kind of looked past them, we were so focused on state. We did the job and got the win, that's all that matters right now."
Lake Park was outshot by the Royals (12-11-4) 8-6 in the second half but the Lancers owned a 14-7 advantage for the game with at least 5 boots that could have been goals. Larkin had its chances in the second half on a free kick from Josh Garcia. Diego Ramirez at times had good looks that were to no avail.
"I thought the first 15 minutes of the second half we had good ball control, and we were getting some opportunities. We just didn't get them on frame and if you don't get it on frame it's not going to go in," Royals' coach Ken Hall said. "We won our first sectional and we played them minute-for-minute, I thought. I'm real proud of the guys. I thought Lake Park knew they were in a fight."
"Senior-dominated teams tend to bring that leadership and bring it to state, so it was an impressive season so far," Lancers coach Tony Passi said. "Hopefully we set a trend, and set a new culture."