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Daily Journal
     October 22, 2021      #72-295 KDJ

Beecher, Grant Park set to clash for sectional

By Cody Smith

Despite having to pause play just six minutes into its IHSA Class 1A Manteno Sectional semifinal soccer match against Joliet Catholic Academy because of an hour-long lightning delay, the Beecher boys soccer team managed to remain focused on the task at hand and walked away with a 3-0 victory against the Hillmen to advance to the sectional title game in Manteno on Saturday afternoon.

“Obviously, it feels good to advance to the sectional championship,” Bobcats head coach Dawn Compton said. “These boys have been working really hard, and we’ve been preaching all season long that hard work is going to produce positive things for us, and they really believed it that. ... They keep working, and that work keeps producing wins.”

When play resumed with 34 minutes left in the first half, the Bobcats took full advantage of JCA having to replace its goalkeeper Johnny Budz for backup Aidan Medina after Budz went out with a concussion right before the pause in action.

Beecher’s Logan Wilkins secured a steal from one of JCA’s defenders he later took all the way for an unassisted score to break the 0-0 tie with 30 minutes left in the first half, giving the Bobcats a score just four minutes after the delay.

“It was huge for Wilkins to get that goal early for us,” senior teammate Austin Hauser said. “We’ve been trying to set the tone and control the game all season, and so for Wilkins to be only a freshman and put us in front was huge for us, and we didn’t stop from there on out.”

Nine minutes later, Wilkins found his teammate Steven Adams on an assist Adams would punch into the back of the net to help extend Beecher’s lead to 2-0 at the 19-minute mark. The Bobcats further extended their lead to 3-0 when Hauser found the right back of the net off a penalty kick from inside the box with 16 minutes left before halftime.

“I was nervous on the [penalty] kick for the first time all season, and I think I had nerves because just before that I went on a good 60-yard run, which made me tired,” Hauser said. “So, I took my time going up to that PK spot, trying to control my breathing, and luckily I put it away into the back of the net.”

Beecher had a commanding 3-0 lead at halftime, but they never felt comfortable.

“At halftime, we just talked about not getting complacent,” Compton said. “We couldn’t stop working because JCA is here for a reason, and they have players [who] can put the ball away, and so we had to remain focused.”

The Bobcats stayed locked in in the second half by adding to their lead even more when Bryce Beck assisted Tyler Kramer for Beecher’s final score at the 61-minute mark. It helped them coast for the final 21 minutes, where they ended up giving up their only score to JCA’s Aldo Estrada at the 72-minute mark. The three-goal win against the Hillmen helped Beecher improve to 21-6 overall on the season.

“I think the last seven or eight minutes you could tell we were a little gassed out, but I had full confidence that my team would get the job done,” Compton said. “I’m excited for my team to take the next step to the sectional championship.”

Grant Park records shutout win against Chicago-Catalyst Maria

Unlike Beecher’s sectional semifinal game that featured a weather delay and three first-half scores, Grant Park found itself in a dog fight against Chicago-Catalyst Maria in the second IHSA Class 1A Sectional semifinal match, setting up a battle of River Valley Conference rivals in Saturday’s title game.

The Dragons and the Wolves went back and forth with neither team managing to put any goals up in the first half of action. Both teams had multiple scoring opportunities within the first 40 minutes of action, but the goalkeeper play from both squads was outstanding, especially Grant Park’s Luke Horn, who totaled five clutch saves in the first half.

“That first half especially, Horn kept us in it,” Dragons head coach Mark Boccia said. “Chicago-Catalyst Maria had some real quality chances, especially from about 20 yards out in the first half, and so I told Horn at halftime to keep it up.”

Grant Park finally put themselves in front 1-0 with a goal from Emilio Sandoval at the 59-minute mark. Sandoval’s score came just 13 minutes after he was inches away from connecting with the back of the net after a miraculous save by Wolves goalkeeper Sebastian Saldivar.

“I had a couple chances throughout the game, but I was like a minute too late, and so I finally got off early and saw the ball bouncing, and the keeper wasn’t coming out to it,” Sandoval said. “So, I just had to tap it in, and it felt amazing to put my team in front.”

With Horn keeping up his terrific play in the second half, the Dragons felt the need to keep pushing the pace. It ended up working out for them, as Ayden Delaney buried a PK score about seven minutes after Sandoval’s score. Two minutes later, Rylan Heldt put the finishing touches on for Grant Park with a goal off a great pass from Nolan Schneider at the 68-minute mark.

Horn closed things out with two more saves in the second half to notch the clean sheet and set up a third meeting with their conference rivals Saturday. The Dragons won the two regular season meetings, but Boccia knows that means nothing come Saturday.

“We are extremely excited to advance to the sectional championship,” Boccia said. “We are playing Beecher, [which is] a team we are very familiar with, and so we are ready to keep it going.”

UP NEXT: Beecher (21-6) will square-off against Grant Park (26-2) at Manteno for the sectional title at 3 p.m. Saturday.

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