Spencer Farina turned the second match of group play in favor of New Trier with a timely strike two minutes before intermission to send the Trevians on their way to a 3-1 victory over Wheeling on Wednesday night in Northfield.
The victory sets up a meeting Thursday between the Trevians (5-0-0) and top-rated St. Charles East to decide who advances into the final of the first Northside College Showcase at 4 p.m. Saturday.
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"This was a terrific test for us and done we were looking forward to for a number of reasons," said New Trier coach Wes Molyneaux, who last year watched his club fall in the sectional semifinals against Wheeling. "That game, despite us coming up on the short end, was one of the most exciting and entertaining matches I've been involved with since coming here. Even though Wheeling lost a lot of its players from that state runner-up team, we knew it would still be a very tough opponent tonight."
The Wildcats (2-2-3), who were fresh off their championship run at the Glenbrook South Titan Invite last week, opened pool play on Labor Day with a loss to St. Charles East.
"We've got a rough schedule early on, and with so many new guys on our roster this year, they're being forced to grow up while learning to come together as a team against some very solid opponents," said Wheeling coach Ed Uhrik, who was without one of his seniors, backline standout Francisco Arellano. That meant Fabian Acosta took over the role of captain of the Cats' defense .
Despite Uhrik's claim that his club has lacked the high-percentage possession game he and his staff want the Wildcats to perform, the visitors had plenty of the run of play from time-to-time. But clear sights of the the goal were scarce.
The only attempt of note at keeper Jonathan Jaggard in the first 20 minutes was a snap shot from Frankie Estrada, which sailed over the bar after Colin Egerter gave the Trevians the lead moments before.
Egerter, a senior, finished in a crowd after Tim Moriarty's enterprising run down the right side set him free long enough to provide a well-aimed serve to the spot. It spilled free -- right to the opportunistic foot of Egerter.
Wheeling did not respond well to the goal. The last ten minutes of the first period were played mostly in the Wildcats' own end. Farina made the Wildcats pay for it in the 38th minute.
"Michael McCue did some great work leading up to Spencer's goal, and increasing our advantage to 2 goals late in the half and that was big for us," Molyneaux said.
The Wildcats could have folded up for the night. Instead, the reigning MSL champs came out brightly to begin the second half.
They gave plenty of pace and effort to present a threat to a confident Trevians club.
Getting a helper frm Joshua Prindle, Estrada forced a save from Jaggard in the 44th minute as Prindle, Estrada, Acosta, Fernando Martinez and Bryan Cervaites all helped make the Wildcats' attack look more vibrant than ever against New Trier.
The Trevians failed to defend a short corner initiated by Estrada and Martinez. That led to to Acosta bringing the Wildcats closer at 2-1 in the 64th minute.
However, the home side came right back down after the whistle to put in the dagger with Michael Gallo doing the damage.
"It was nice to get that goal to make it a game, but to give one away so easily, and quick was a little disappointing," Uhrik said.
Jaggard made a brilliant save on a sure goal targeted for the upper right corner by Cervaites to keep the Wildcats at bay the rest of the way.
Wheeling closes out pool play with a match against MSL East rival Buffalo Grove at 7 p.m. Thursday.