ARLINGTON HEIGHTS – Benet had a variety of reasons to celebrate following Friday’s emotionally draining 1-0 victory over Saint Viator.
The Redwings rode a first half goal from Nick Roe to complete their second place finish in the East Suburban Catholic Conference standings. The Redwings (11-3-3, 7-1-0) finished with 21 points, one behind Notre Dame.
The Dons (13-3-2, 7-0-1) took the title, in large part, thanks to their 3-2 win in double overtime win at Benet on Sept. 6. Soon after the final whistle, Benet players different methods to rejoice the road victory in the rain-soaked late afternoon/early evening game along Dryden Avenue.
Some chose a simple and subdued postgame celebration, while a few others relished taking a dive on the wet and plush grass.
The Redwings, the no. 24 ranked team in the Chicagoland Soccer Top 25, closed out the regular-season with a flourish. Since losing to the Dons, the Redwings have posted a 9-0-2 record and allowed just two goals, both occurring in 1-1 ties to no. 25 Lane and previously ranked Naperville Central.
The Redwings, the top-seed in Sub-sectional A of the St. Francis Sectional, open the Class AA state tournament against no.6-seed Hinsdale South in a Nazareth Academy regional semifinal on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
“This was a big conference game,” Klosterman said. “Last year we had them on a day just like this, at the end of the season, and we managed to get two goals right at the end to get a share of the conference title. We knew they were going to be tough. They have a beautiful field, a good team and are well-coached. They made it tough for us today.
“I thought we missed a couple of opportunities to try and put it away, but they made it tough. It’s a good win, and always good to get a conference win.”
Benet senior goalie Drew Connell wrapped up his final regular-season appearance with six saves. The Redwings’ strong and physical backline kept the Lions in check for the majority of the game, neutralizing threats from building with their athleticism and effort. The team has recorded three-straight shutouts, which pleases Klosterman heading into the playoffs.
After a slow start, Benet coach Matt Klosterman credited a tinkering with the rotation for part of his team’s stunning turnaround.
“We lost our first conference game and made a couple of changes after starting the season 2-3-1,” he said. “We feel really, really good about our work defensively, and we keep creating chances and are getting better every day and improving on our mistakes. In the end, that’s all you can ask for. It’s a great group.”
The Lions (7-9-5, 4-2-2) haven’t beaten their conference rivals in the regular-season since recording a 3-1 win on Oct. 17, 2014. The Redwings knocked off the Lions for the eighth-straight time in the regular-season Friday.
Saint Viator coach Bryan DeLeon saw positives his team can build upon for the playoffs. The 11th-seeded Lions take on regional host and no. 7-seed Grayslake North in its Class AA tourney opener Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
One plus from the game was the performance of substitute Lions senior keeper Charlie Ford. He nearly stymied Benet’s attack and finished with nine saves.
“It’s a tough one,” DeLeon said. “We knew they were going to have a good game. We had a plan and held them off, but we’re proud of the effort by the boys. I think there’s a lot more to come from us.
“Our goalie, today he did an amazing job. With the effort from our midfielder and forwards, we can be a solid team. We’re balanced. I’m proud of them. I’m looking forward to the playoffs.
"We’re a good team. Reilly Salatino, our center back, had a very good game. He keeps us in the game. "
The match was played under a dark and dreary sky that dropped heavy rain at certain points of the game. The Redwings made Roe’s sixth goal of the season stand for the final 60-plus minutes.
“We had a corner, and we’ve been working on this new play in practice during the week,” Roe said of his goal. “We played it in and back out and Sam Trunnell headed the ball into me. I was able to finish it in the back post. It was crazy playing out here, but this is perfect soccer weather. The field is just like our grass field at Benet.”
Roe said the Redwings are riding a hot streak they hope doesn’t end. They want to win out and raise the state championship trophy in the early evening on Nov. 4 at Hoffman Estates High School -- the site of the state finals.
“As a team, we’ve grown and learned how we play and what we’re best at,” Roe said. “I think after making a switch and moving guys around, it has been perfect for us. We have to take every game seriously and work hard in practice to get to our goal. I think if we work together as a team, keep pushing forward and take every game really seriously, I think we will do great.”
Amid the heavy rain in the first half, Trunnell said he focused on executing the play that led to Roe’s goal.
“We played our short corner kick that we’ve been working on in practice, and I just managed to get to Nick,” Trunnell said. “It was very tough conditions. It was physical. We built our confidence up after starting slow, and we’re excited for the playoffs.”
Saint Viator gained a measure of confidence by limiting the Redwings to a single goal. With the conditions playing a factor, Ford stayed strong in the net and kept his team in the game.
Several Saint Viator defenders also got into the act, deflecting shots to stop balls from getting through.
“It was back and forth all game, just long balls that were cutting in,” Ford said. “It was a great job by our defense, and they blocked a lot of shots for me. At the end, we just couldn’t get one in. Benet is a great team. They kept on sending the long ball. I just tried to keep my head up and my confidence up after they scored.
“Before this game, I was worried because Benet has always been good. But we had to stick to our roots, and we played them like any other team. It was mentally challenging. We had to keep our cool and stick to our game plan. Great job by Benet.”
Ford tallied three saves in the final 15 seconds of the game. He fought off a furious surge by the Redwings in an attempt to tack on a late goal.
Right when the final buzzer sounded, a Saint Viator fan yelled out, “Charlie, you can have some fried chicken tonight.”
“I was blocking, blocking and blocking as the shots were all coming from my right side,” Ford said of the final flurry. “I kept getting up after each one. If I dropped one, they would’ve scored. Benet is a great team. Our defense is not the problem. We had some chances, but just couldn’t put one away. We need to get our offense going.”
With the conclusion of the conference season, Benet takes dead aim on the state tournament.
“The playoffs are a new season. Whatever happens before, you can’t look at anybody’s record before,” Roe said. “In every game, every team is playing for their season, so you will get everybody’s best effort every single game. You have to bring your best. It’s an exciting team. We think we have a good team, but we have to make sure we’re scoring goals.”
Benet senior captain Drew Fieldman felt his team battled for 80 minutes to end the regular-season with a quality conference road win.
“It was tough coming out here with all the weather, but for me, it kind of energized me,” Fieldman said. “It’s a big game at the end of the season. It’s kind of fun to finish out strong. We’re playing well right now.
“Everyone comes into the playoffs with the same record. We have to keep energized. We’ve really come together and know where each other is going to be, and who will run and play it. Our hard work, especially in the midfield and the back, has been important.”
GK: Drew Connell
D: Nick Roe
D: Nick Nirtaut
D: Sam Trunnell
D: Danny Sterba
MF: Drew Fieldman
MF: Alex Farsalas
MF: Jack Wesley
F: Brendan Bergnach
F: Matt Benka
F: Mateo Picha
GK: Charlie Ford
D: Daniel Biafora
D: Reilly Salatino
D: Cristobal Carranza
D: Christian Brown
MF: Michael O’Connor
MF: Jacob Casey
MF: Manny Florez
MF: Gabriel Glodz
F: Miles Waddell
F: Diego Garcia
Chicagoland Men of the Match: Charlie Ford, sr., GK, Saint Viator; Nick Roe, sr., D, Benet
Benet: Roe (Trunnell), 18’