Boys soccer: Wheaton Academy wins Class 1A state title
EAST PEORIA -- With a pair of third place and a pair of fourth place pieces of hardware already tucked in the trophy case, Wheaton Academy was on a mission to add matching state soccer championships as well to its collection Saturday night.
Twin brothers Josh and Caleb Mariotti each scored in the first 11:17 and the Warriors made it hold up to edge Belleville Althoff 2-1 in an intense Class 1A championship on Eastside Centre's all-weather turf.
"Overwhelmed," admitted third-year Wheaton head coach Cody Snouffer, the newest architect to add to the program's 2014 Class 2A title run. "I'm just thrilled for my guys. They've talked about this (a state title) and to make it come true is a fantastic feeling."
A campaign that averaged nearly five goals a game along with nine shutouts, Wheaton Academy (19-4-1) blitzed its seven postseason foes by a combined 36-3 margin.
But the final step was far from certain.
After the quick strike by the Mariotti brothers at 1:12 and 11:17 respectively, Althoff (24-4-3) bounced back when Jake Pollock -- who registered a hat trick in Friday's semifinal conquest of Bloomington Central Catholic -- notched his team-leading 21st goal of the season at 28:09.
From there, the Warriors stood tall on defense in front of goalie Declan Finnegan in a physical, emotional scoreless second half that included nine yellow cards, an ejection, and a potential game-tying shot that bounced off the crossbar in the final five minutes.
"It was intense and emotional" Snouffer agreed, "and that's what a final should be. This was a final 1A deserved to have."
"Tremendous effort by two tremendous teams," agreed Althoff coach Skip Birdsong.
This was new territory for Belleville Althoff, whose only other state appearance was a 1999 quarterfinal trip in the old two-class format.
But after Wheaton escaped the South Seven Conference champs on penalty kicks in an Iowa invitational tournament back on Oct. 1, Snouffer had a feeling about an inevitable return match against the Crusaders.
"That game just had one of those 'see you again' vibes to it," Snouffer said.
"You know, our school has a history of getting to getting to the Final Four," he continued. "But to win two games against a great conference rival (Timothy Christian) and these guys in two days is just an amazing feeling."
Bloomington Central Catholic 3, Elmhurst Timothy Christian 2 (penalty kicks)
Ethan Lemkuil's penalty kick at 75:26 help Timothy Christian (18-4-3) force a shootout in the third place game, but there the Saints (25-4-1) prevailed 3-2 as Jacob Jongky, Jaylen Bischoff and Gavin Young connected and goalie Auston Koch turned back the final three Trojan shooters.
Cris Cruz netted his team-leading 27th goal in regulation as well for Timothy Christian.