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Game story: Stevenson holds off Mt. Carmel, takes 3rd-straight Wolter title

By Mike Garofola, 09/03/23, 8:15PM CDT


Patriots make 1st-minute PK hold up for win

GLENVIEW -- It might not have been as easy or as convincing as the Stevenson faithful would have liked, but their club emerged victorious in the 37th-annual Jim Wolter Titan tournament final Saturday morning at Glenbrook South High School.

The Patriots (6-0-0) lifted their third-successive piece of hardware at the tournament following a 1-0 victory over Mt. Carmel at John Davis Stadium, one year after a win over Speer by the same score.

"We got the start you always hope for," said Patriots manager PepeJon Chavez. “Then it was defend and weather an early storm before we finally settled in, finally get ourselves back into the game and played the way we wanted to.

"(We) knew Mt. Carmel was technically gifted, quick and attack-minded. So we did something we/I normally do not like to do -- that was to sit in (on defense). Today we had to do that a little bit, and I thought our men did very well at it.”

"(Mt. Carmel) was a very talented and dangerous team, with and without the ball," said Stevenson forward Jack Bacher. “We had to be mentally ready for their type of play, especially after our poor performance the other day when we beat Prospect (2-0) to advance into the final.”

The junior bagged the eventual game-winner just inside the first minute of play. Mt. Carmel keeper Julian Rodriguez guessed to his right on the penalty kick, but watched Bacher smash his attempt the other way into the back of his net.

"I got myself into the box, and was brought down from behind,” said Bacher, who scored the opener against Prospect. “It was a great start for us.”

The poor start doomed Mt. Carmel (2-1-1). 

"We were undisciplined and not ready at the start of this game," said disappointed manager Antonio Godinez. “It ended up costing us in the end.”

Godinez's men, to their credit, instantly revved up the Caravan’s free-flowing, impressive attack after the PK. They threatened the Patriots defense with quick shifts of the ball with one- and two-touch soccer and plenty of combination play.

"(They) could really move the ball around, and with speed," said senior Alex Huelsman, who along with Bacher shared the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor. “So, it was important for us to stay organized and composed, while making good decisions when defending."

Stevenson keeper Will Rokush, who was named the MVP of the tournament, was called upon early. He stayed busy during the opening quarter hour of both halves, when the Caravan implemented their full-throttled attack.

The senior saved a pair of Erik Sanchez attempts in the first three minutes that came following some impressive build-up, usually from the midfield duo of Jose Guzman and Angel Reyes.

"It was a bad start for us. I thought we came back really well and created a lot of chances after their goal, but we had to be better in the final third today," said Guzman, who was a key figure during the 2022 campaign that ended after a heartbreaking 1-0 double-overtime loss to Solorio in the St. Laurence Supersectional. The Caravan finished 14-4-5 last season.

Mt. Carmel displayed quality technique from all of its field players, however on a couple of occasions square passes in their own end and poorly played balls back to keeper Julian Rodriguez were nearly costly.

Bacher came close to beating Rodriguez on a 50-50 challenge when a defender played the ball back with little pace. Later, it was Alexander Xie collecting a square ball before quickly playing forward to his front-line mates.

Xie was outstanding on the outside for the Patriots and constantly outworked opponents on his side, He provided quality distribution and attacked with speed and purpose in his attempts to pry open the Caravan.

Mt. Carmel continued to enjoy most of the play and possession through the first 20 minutes of action, until the Stevenson attack came to life.

"They easily had 90 percent of the possession during the first half of both periods,” said Chavez. “But I was really pleased with the way we did defend as a team. We sorted things out well while staying disciplined and composed.”

A nice exchange through Shu Aaoyagi and Benjamin Inthisone to Bacher that went left to right was the start of Stevenson's resurgence.

Christopher Konieczny and Xie joined in to give the Patriots a nice quintet going forward. It was this group that put pressure on Mt. Carmel until the closing moments of the first half. As the game approached intermission, Rokosh watched an Americo Castaneda snap-shot go wide before he turned away an Angel Reyes attempt.

"When we didn't finish our chances, we let them get back into the game," Guzman said. “They defended really well, but again we just were not good enough in the final third.”

The senior has decided that a variety of injuries, including a recent knee issue which forced him to miss four months, will end his soccer career after high school.

Stevenson posed a threat to Mt. Carmel when it put its mind to it.

"I thought as the first half went on, we possessed and attacked so much better,” said Bacher. “It continued into the second half, after that first 10 minutes when they came at us like they did at the start.”

Rokosh saved three attempts from inside 16 yards during the early stages of the second period before his backline of Mohit Damodaran, Sebastian Pop, Jackson Shrout and Huelsman turned watertight to frustrate Mt. Carmel.

"We were without one of our starting backs (Cole Dirks) so we moved Sebastian Pop back,” said Chavez. “But as a unit the guys played great, especially Jackson, who was outstanding all day."

There was more urgency that came from both sides during the last quarter hour of play. Each club knew if a next goal came, it could be the most important one.

Stevenson won that phase of the game with the best quality of chances.

Alexander Xie played a lovely ball across to Aoyagi who watched Rodriguez make the save on his shot.

Moments later, Aoyagi was sent through with a superb early ball out of the back. While in full gallop, he was hauled down from behind by Julian Leon 35 yards from the Caravan net.

Leon was sent off nine minutes from time as referee John Anderson ruled his action interfered with a goal-scoring opportunity.

Playing a man up gave Stevenson an advantage they nearly converted on in a handful of occasions.

Pop went wide with his long free kick before a well-played one-two combination between Advaith Ramanan and Aoyagi ended with another attempt that steered wide of the back post.

Bacher sent through Sebastian Palikot, who was betrayed with his first touch.

Inthisone, who collected another defense-splitting ball from Bacher, could only stare into space after he went wide of an open back post.

"It could have easily been a 3-0 game, but this was a great, team win and an awesome way to start the season,” Bacher said. “But we still have a lot of work to do beginning next week."

"I was proud of our effort during this entire tournament, and it was great to see so many of our younger players come in and play hard when given minutes," added Huelsman.

The Patriots won their three pool-play matches by outscoring their opponents 8-1. Rokosh collected his fourth clean-sheet in the title match.

"Aidan Morris played 90 percent of the time for us last year between the sticks, but Will worked hard knowing his chance would come," Chavez began. “He has been very good for us this season.

"We have a lot of soccer ahead. Our men have been working hard and putting in the time. They have played with integrity and have carried out the culture we have built here at Stevenson.”

The Patriots hit the road Tuesday to meet Carmel (1-3-0) in Mundelein before their North Suburban Conference opener at home against Lake Zurich two nights later.

Starting lineups

Stevenson (4-3-3)
G- Will Rokosh
D- Sebastian Pop
D- Alex Huelsman
D- Mohit Damodaran
D- Jackson Shrout
M- Shu Aoyagi
M- William Boshold
M- Alexander Xie
F- Christopher Konieczny
F- Jack Bacher
F- Benjamin Inthisone

Mt. Carmel (4-3-3)
G- Julian Rodriguez
D- Ryan Nichols
D- Nichols Mullen
D- Julian Vazquez
D- Emmanuel Hinojoza
M- Jose Guzman
M- Angel Reyes
M- Aiden Sauseda
F- Erik Sanchez
F- Americo Castaneda
F- Brandon Razo

Chicagoland Soccer Men of the Match: Jack Bacher, jr., F, Stevenson; Alex Huelsman, sr., D, Stevenson

Referee: John Anderson

Scoring summary

First half
Stevenson: Bacher (PK), 1'

Second half
No scoring