Boys soccer: Stevenson stuns Zion-Benton
This is certainly a magical time of the soccer season -- the emotion, excitement and thrill of an upset always a possibility.
It's also the time when league rivals reunite in the postseason with the chance for the lower seed to do the unthinkable.
No. 12 Stevenson did just that Wednesday night in Lincolnshire, stunning No. 5 Zion-Benton 2-1 to advance into its own Class 3A regional final at 5 p.m. Friday against Mid-Suburban League champion Fremd (12-1-4).
"Zion-Benton was a team with great individual talent (and finished) just one point out of first place (behind) Libertyville in the NSC, so we knew we had to be at our best in order to have a chance to move on," said coach Mark Schartner, whose Patriots improved to 6-8-4. "But we did 5-6 formation changes during the night, which I felt disrupted their rhythm. We defended well as a team, were strong in the midfield and scored big goals when we needed them."
Sophomore Dan Saltzman bagged in the game-winner two minutes after the Zee-Bees equalized. He and his teammates did well to weather an early storm, then used their new formation to slow the high-powered attack from their guests.
"We lost the first time we played (them) so we came out and played five in the back," Saltzman said. "After we slowly got back into the game, that new formation really made a difference."
Camron Mahdavian, who sat in front of the Patriots' back line of Ryan Allen, Kevin Yan, Evan Paldrmic and Rei Kubota, was the key to the success of the home side. The sophomore won nearly every 50-50 ball that came his way, while also providing terrific deep service, and also joining the attack when deemed possible.
Benjamin Dixon fired in the opener after a goal-less first period, driving in his low free kick off a Z-B defender and past keeper Roberto Colin at 48 minutes.
Colin was brilliant all throughout the contest, taking three sure goals away from the Patriots to keep the chances of Zion-Benton (14-5-2) always right there.
The senior somehow found a way to turn away a short-range blast from Alem Duratovic in the 57th minute, then was at it again minutes later, turning Mahdavian's snap shot up and over the bar.
Zion-Benton got even in the 68th minute when Osmar Barajas finished a piercing free kick from Colin. But when Saltzman steered in his 12-yard attempt following another spectacular save by Colin, the Patriots faithful began to sense victory.
"Roberto Colin made saves tonight that were beyond belief," Schartner said. "But we played well when we had to and kept the pressure up to beat a team that has one of the best coaches ever in the NSC and in this half of the state in Cliff Pontillo. I have the utmost respect for (Cliff), who does remarkable work at Zion-Benton and for the sport of soccer."