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Sports

Joliet West boys soccer is sectional bound

Joliet West's boys soccer team celebrates after its upset win over Rock Island in Saturday's Class 3A Joliet Central Regional finals.
Picture by Curt Herron
Joliet West's boys soccer team celebrates after its upset win over Rock Island in Saturday's Class 3A Joliet Central Regional finals. Picture by Curt Herron

JOLIET – When the playoffs roll around, there usually are a few upsets, but more often than not the higher seeds still advance.

Of the 32 Class 3A boys soccer regional tournament matches, there were only five title matches that a team won seeded six spots or more below the finalist that got upset.

One of those came at the Rockford Auburn Regional, in the Streamwood Sectional, where No. 8 seeded Crystal Lake South won, 1-0, over top-seeded Dundee-Crown, which was 18-0-2.

After getting off to a rough start, which included a 2-1 overtime defeat to that same conference opponent a month ago, South has gone 6-2-1 to capture half of its wins.

However, the story involving the other top-seeded team in the state’s largest class was likely a much bigger surprise.

Top-seeded Rock Island entered Saturday’s Joliet Central Regional final as a big favorite over No. 7 seed Joliet West. The Rocks were 19-2 and only had lost once to an Illinois team.

After winning a share of their first Western Big 6 Conference title, they were on the verge of not only their first 20-win season and a regional title, but also would get the chance to accomplish more at the sectional that they’re hosting.

Meanwhile, few gave the 9-10-3 Tigers much of a chance. Coach Patrick Korthauer’s team had lost more often than it had won during the past month and figured to have a difficult time shutting down an explosive Rock Island team.

But it was clear from the outset that West seemed to be more fired up than the Rocks. A score by captain Gerardo Nicolas early in the second half put the Tigers up for good and he added an insurance goal, in a 2-0 win.

With defenders Jason Vaccarella, Raul Martinez and captain Leo Haro joining central midfielder and captain Ethan Pranckus in the back, keeper Sebastian Mireles didn’t face many threatening shots, as Rock Island was blanked for the first time this season.

The Tigers hadn’t won a regional since their program was restarted. The last time that a Joliet Township team won a regional was in 2010, the final season of the combined program. The upset advances West to Tuesday’s sectional semifinals against Normal Community.

“Our boys played with such intensity and intelligence, and that really showed throughout the game,” Korthauer said. “I think that they kind of withstood the pressure in the first half and then opened things up in the second half. We talked about how Rock Island had an unbelievable season, so we wanted our guys to know that coming into this game that we both had a 0-0 record and to just start from there.

“The discipline that our players showed throughout the entire game was very commendable, and I think that it speaks to the character of each of them. When adversity hits, they showed that they can kind of play through it and play in an environment that’s not an easy one. But as we’ve said, anything that’s worth getting is not going to come easy.”

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