Stevenson digs deep, knocks Conant from state tourney
Host Stevenson was rolling in the deep end of the pool Friday night in the second half of the Patriots' boys state water polo state quarterfinal game against Conant.
The Cougars proved that their sparkling 30-3 record heading into the state tournament was for real as they led 2-1 after one quarter before the Pats rallied back to take a 5-4 halftime lead.
The very close and evenly matched back-and-forth battle wound up being tied at 6-6 on a breakaway goal by Conant's Jon Burke with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
But Stevenson (22-9-1) and goalie Rob O'Brien played shutout defense the rest of the way as 5 goals by junior Mitchell Sokolsky paved the way to a 9-6 Patriots victory.
The Pats will face St. Ignatius College Prep (21-10-1) in the semifinals at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, with the winner of that game to take on Naperville North or Fenwick for the title at 8 p.m.
Conant (30-4) led 1-0 56 seconds into the contest on a goal from the Michigan State-bound Burke from the right wing before a lob shot by Stevenson's Alex Divanyan tied it at 1-1 late in the quarter.
Burke assisted Matt Engebretson's goal with 21 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Cougars a 2-1 edge.
Conant went ahead 3-1 when Kyle Bradberry got his own rebound and stuffed home a shot 45 seconds into the second quarter.
Then came a huge surge by Stevenson as 4 unanswered goals started with a goal by Sokolsky in a man-up situation 4:46 before the intermission.
Senior Remy Dalloul fired home a shot assisted by Taylor Baretz on the fast break before teammate Varun Mummadi scored from the left wing for a quick 4-3 edge.
Then Sokolsky swam right in on Conant goalie Aly Ahmed and scored and the Pats led 5-3. Conant cut the gap to 5-4 on Burke's second goal assisted by Bradberry 1:09 before halftime.
"A couple of guys fouled out early and I do feel we showed everybody that we belong in this tournament," said Conant coach Tim Daniel, whose team was making its second Elite Eight appearance since 2007. "It hurts a lot, but in time they'll realize this was one of the best seasons in school history."
Sokolsky got the Patriots going 1:30 into the third quarter as he spun and scored from close range with a defender on him to boost the lead to 6-4.
But the Cougars hung tough as a nice pass across the pool from Kazuki Morita to Bradberry resulted in a goal and a 6-5 score.
Then Burke got a steal and a breakaway goal to tie the score at 6-6, but that would be that end of the Conant offense.
Sokolsky scored what proved to be the game-winning goal on a shot into the far right corner of the net with 3:10 left in the third quarter.
Burke got another steal and a breakaway with 2:37 left in the third quarter. But this time O'Brien turned away his shot with a 1-on-1 save.
"We had 24 steals and when you play good defense it leads to offense," Sokolsky said. "I just like to put myself in a position to score and Remy (Dalloul) had 6 ejections drawn, which is huge."
At 53 seconds into the fourth quarter, Sokolsky faked a shot and threw a short pass to Dalloul for the goal and an 8-6 lead in the deep 12-foot water of the Pats' comfortable home pool.
Once Stevenson got the 2-goal lead Conant's chances were pretty much sunk as the Pats managed to run out the clock in the final minutes.
Then Sokolsky scored on a penalty shot with 5:28 to play to put the game out of reach and ultimately set off a Stevenson celebration in its fifth state tournament appearance in seven years.
"They're a big, physical team and we knew if we kept attacking we were going to get our chances, and Tim's boys came to play early," said Stevenson coach Sean Wimer. "I think he (Sokolsky) is one of the best juniors in the state. And that pirouette shot he did? I can't teach that."
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