Boys soccer: Wildcats still the talk of West Chicago
A year ago, West Chicago's season was long over and Brian Nieves had just finished his freshman year playing on the JV1 squad.
On Friday, Nieves scored the game-winning goal in overtime to lift the Wildcats to a 2-1 victory over Edwardsville in a Class 3A semifinal at Hoffman Estates.
Nieves had never scored a goal. That's not a misprint. The sophomore's first goal sends the Wildcats to Saturday's championship game against Morton at 7 p.m.
"I couldn't have done it if I wasn't on this team," he said. "It wasn't me. It was the team."
That selfless, team-first approach has worked wonders for a West Chicago team that is a victory away from joining the 1974 football squad as the only other championship team in school history.
"We're kind of the talk of the town and everyone's been coming out," Wildcats coach Jose Villa said. "I've had multiple alumni message me, congratulating us, so you know we're proud of these boys for not only bringing the team together but also the community. They're playing for their town."
Edwardsville (20-5-1) stunned the Wildcats out of the gate, getting a breakaway goal from Cooper Nolan not even two minutes into the action.
"I would say that was the earliest we've been scored on this season, and you could see some frustration of being scored on in a state semifinal game," Villa said. "It may deflate some guys, but this group as a whole responded really well."
That early hiccup could've been a crushing blow, but it seemingly woke up the Wildcats and helped shake out some nerves and then seize control of the game.
"When they scored it gave us a wake-up call and we started to play our game and did very well," Wildcats senior Moises Morfin said. "The whole second half was all us. When we started playing our game they didn't even see the ball."
West Chicago (23-2-3) outshot Edwardsville 21-9 and some of those chances nearly drew the team even, but Edwardsville goalkeeper Tyler Frolik kept his poise making several huge saves.
"It was pretty tough and you just have to stay mentally locked in and keep telling yourself that you're going to keep the shutout and just keep believing that," Frolik said. "And then you have to let your defense work for you, and they took away a lot of shots that I didn't have to save."
No one was saving Morfin's equalizer with 9:09 left in regulation, though. It was a true thing of beauty that started on Jahir Martinez's long pass to D'Marcus Marin, who played it over the top for just his second assist of the season.
The Tigers had done their part to hold onto their lead for the previous 69 minutes, but the hard-charging Wildcats wouldn't be denied.
"For the most part we were eliminating the really high-quality shots and that was good," Tigers coach Mark Heiderscheid said. "But at the same time you have to really respect their persistency and they also adapted too."
Some teams lose faith. The Wildcats never did.
"At halftime we talked about how we had to come back," Hernandez said. "We played with our hearts in the second half and we knew we could back and we did."
The Wildcats had a few other opportunities in regulation to net the game-winner, including a bicycle kick try from Jessie Hernandez in the final minute. But they needed overtime to get the game-winner from Nieves just 45 seconds into the first overtime period.
Nieves didn't have to do too much other than finish after Hernandez sent the ball to Morfin, who found Nieves pretty much wide open.
"We were talking about how it doesn't matter who scores, but being willing to take someone 1-on-1 and being on the first post knowing that the keeper is always going to be cover the first post," Villa said. "We talked about making sure someone is running into that PK spot or the sixth and be sure to tap it in when the keeper is out of position, and so Nieves did that run perfectly and slotted that ball."