Boys soccer: Crystal Lake South wins semifinal, will defend state title against Benet
After graduating 12 seniors from last year's state championship team and only returning two starters, there were probably concerns about whether or not Crystal Lake South could compete for a Fox Valley Conference title, let alone defend that Class 2A boys soccer title.
While the Gators didn't win conference, they'll be back at Hoffman Estates on Saturday to try to defend their state title as they shutout Troy Triad on Friday afternoon, 2-0, behind a pair of goals from Alex Canfield.
Crystal Lake South (20-4-4) will face Benet (19-1-2) at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
"We watched (Canfield) on film, so we knew he was a heck of a player," Triad coach Jim Jackson said. "Austin Borri did a heck of a job on him the whole game except he got loose a couple of times and he finished. That's why he's an all-state player and has 30-something goals on the season."
Canfield tallied goals No. 34 and 35 in the first half while the defense, led by senior Evan Carlson, locked down for its third shutout of the postseason.
"I think that's the best we've defended all season long," Gators coach Brian Allen said. "Against a team that puts you on bombardment on every throw-in, every corner kick, bend but not break was our mentality and it took literally every guy on our team to continue to defend and see things through there."
Triad (22-3-3) appeared to have scored on a throw-in from Michael Tentis to Joe Wade just 8:08 into the game, but as the Knights were celebrating, an official signaled a foul, disallowing the goal. It proved to be a huge call for both sides.
"We wanted to put one away early and just didn't get it done," Tentis said. "It was pretty bad. We were all celebrating and then (the official) is holding his hand up and that kind of shifts the momentum back at us with all the fans there and everything."
It seemed to also spark life into the Gators.
"I think it was kind of a wakeup call and maybe we got a little lucky there," Carlson said. "We realized we had to play a little harder, step harder, and I think it was for the good in the end."
The Gators didn't get lucky with 11:51 remaining in the first half, but it took the talents of goalkeeper Carson Hill to react quickly enough to snag a shot from Travis Speer before it got past him.
That kept the game scoreless until Canfield showed what he does best, scoring on a cross from Colton Weidner with 6:29 left before the break, before breaking down a pair of defenders to score unassisted with 2:51 remaining.
"I just saw space down the corner," Weidner explained about assisting on the first goal. "Then I served the ball in and it hit Alex's head."
On the insurance goal, it was simply Canfield at his absolute finest, showcasing his extraordinary abilities to make things happen when he's in possession of the ball.
"You constantly want to put pressure on them," he said. "After I poked it out from the first defender that second defender felt he had to fill the gap. So he stepped in and I was able to get a touch around it and put it away."
The Knights didn't go quietly in the second half, forcing Hill (5 saves) to make some plays, but the Gators denied each opportunity, shutting them out for just the third time in 28 games.
"It looked like they put another attacker or midfielder up so we had to make sure weren't getting up too high and our midfielders weren't either," Carlson said. "We were just kind of sitting, waiting for a moment to step and get the ball back up."
And now the Gators are back in the state championship game.
"It's a little surreal but these seniors kind of picked up where last year's senior class left off," Allen said. "They're terrific leaders and amazing young men, and they did all the little things right as leaders to get this team ready."