AURORA – Losing hurts.
And forgetting the dreaded feeling leaves the door wide open for its return.
Oswego East coach Steve Szymanski had that in mind while he addressed his team after a 1-0 defeat to cross-town rival Oswego in a Class 3A West Aurora Regional semifinal on Tuesday. The Panthers scored in the 65th minute.
“We told the younger guys who are coming back to remember how you feel after this game and let that feeling motivate you to be better,” he said. “Work on yourself and work on your game, so you won’t have to feel this next year.”
The Wolves were on the youngish side this year. That made the contributions of seniors Landon Kangas and Nick Smith in the midfield, Mariano Ramirez on defense and goalkeeper Javier Ruiz even more important. The quartet started Tuesday. The rest of the class played distinct roles this season, including midfielders Zach Barnes, Justin Brischetto and Jack Walter.
Ruiz ended his career with his name written down in the Wolves record book as the program’s all-time leader in shutouts. He surpassed Nathan Huerter when the Wolves beat Oswego 2-0 in Southwest Prairie Conference play Sept. 26. He completed the campaign with eight clean-sheets and amassed 20 for his varsity career.
Oswego East (10-7-4) figures to find increased success next season thanks to its youth brigade. Among their starters Tuesday were sophomore Aaron Godinez and juniors Dylan Drendel, Elyas Edders, Diego Godinez, M.J. Hoffman, Josh Lopez and Caleb Pankiewicz.
Before they begin looking ahead, they might want to reflect on the importance of the games during the regular-season that go toward the postseason seeding.
“It’s so important (to win) those Tuesday night games versus who-knows-which-school because every game matters. It sets you up for better success in the playoffs,” Szymanski said. “We had games in our season that were winnable games that we let slip through our hands. I think we’re trying to get the younger guys to understand that.”
Translation: a few more wins would have meant a higher seed than nine and an easier regional semifinal opponent than a motivated seven-seed.
Oswego (16-6-3) certainly wasn’t about to forget the earlier conference road loss. Oswego East knew it had a huge challenge to not only beat the same team twice during a season but to take that second win in the postseason. In addition, the Wolves met a team with momentum. With the victory, the Panthers extended their winning and shutout streaks to four games. Oswego East finished the season with a 1-3-2 record in its last six games of the season.
“Oswego won a lot of games,” Szymanski said. “We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game. It doesn’t matter if the records would’ve been 0-17-0, it still would’ve been a great game. This is how these games are. It was the 'Rivalry Regional,' I guess, with West Aurora and East Aurora (in the first game) and two 1-0 games. It’s kind of what you expected from games with kids who grew up playing together.”
Oswego advances to face second-seeded West Aurora (19-3-0) in Saturday’s regional title game at noon. The Blackhawks won the Southwest Prairie Conference title with a 9-2-0 record. Plainfield East (8-3-0) finished second. Oswego (7-3-1) tied for fourth place with Plainfield Central; Oswego East (6-4-1) finished sixth in the 12-team league.
Conference teams Plainfield Central, Plainfield North, Plainfield South, Joliet Central, Joliet West and Yorkville have also been eliminated from postseason play.
Minooka, Plainfield East, Romeoville, Oswego West Aurora advanced to a regional final.
Roll with Kroll
Oswego senior Mikey Kroll hadn’t scored a goal this season, so for him to score the game-winner in a state tournament game will be saved and savored in his memory banks for years to come.
Even more impressive, he told his coach Gaspar Arias that he was going to do it. While not quite the same as Babe Ruth’s called shot 91 years ago during the 1932 World Series, Kroll’s ability to fulfill his prediction in such a big-time setting is the stuff of teen legends.
Arias told Kroll that if he did back up such a prediction, it would be a great moment.
“He’s like ‘Yeah, I will (score),'” Arias said, “And he got it. That was really nice to see. He’s an awesome player.”
Lost in Kroll’s big play was the defensive effort from Oswego East's Edders to deny a potential goal during the run of play. But fate did not smile on the Wolves defender. The corner kick that came from his sterling play led to the Kroll goal with 14:57 remaining.
Edders thwarted an Oswego threat, forcing his way between a couple of players to knock the ball away about 25 seconds before Oswego senior Killyan Avila lined up for the corner kick that led to the game-winning goal.
Avila and Kroll had almost collaborated for a goal earlier, a play the team had worked on just the night before in practice.It utilized Avila’s dominant left foot.
“Killyan (Avila) put it on my head in the first half, but the goalie got to that one,” Kroll said. “Killyan did the same thing this time. The goalie didn’t come out on that one so I knew it was coming.”
Since the Wolves and Panthers are accustomed to their natural-grass home fields, Oswego prepared for the rematch on turf in a dome.
“Having something go our way with what we’ve been practicing is actually a really good feeling,” Kroll said. “In past games we’ve been working on finishing and all that, and it hasn’t been clicking.”
For his big play, Kroll was recognized as the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match.
“The kid had a good game,” Szymanski said. “He won every single head ball in the second half and really helped them control the game. Credit to him. It was telling that he won the head ball to win the game, because he won every head ball there in the back.”
Avila back despite back
Avila, who writes with his right hand and throws with his left, also possesses an impressive left foot. Unfortunately for Oswego, it hasn’t been able to utilize his skills as much as they have in the past because of a lingering back injury that limited him to appearances to about one-third of the team’s games this fall.
With his final season on the line, Avila fought through the pain and limitations that it presented.
“This was the kind of game where I didn’t care about my back, I was going to go out and do my thing,” he said. “There was a while there where I couldn’t run or walk. Tonight, I was going to ignore it and help my team.”
Prior to Monday night’s practice, Avila hadn’t taken corner kicks. That gibed with Kroll’s lack of goals.
“It all came together,” Avila said. “Everyone did a wonderful job. I loved all the motivation we had before the game, and all the discipline we had working toward this. We felt we really deserved this.”
A different ending
In the first cross-town match, Oswego East jumped on the visitors with a pair of goals in the first half. That was not the norm. Generally speaking, the Wolves offense proved problematic at times this fall. Furthermore, Oswego wouldn’t allow itself to be victimized by the long ball as they were in the first meeting.
“We knew what they were doing,” Arias said. “They were looking for those long balls, those counters. During halftime we talked about being prepared for that, being organized in the back and right away if we lost possession to just transition to defend again. We needed to come back with speed and get back to defend and win the ballgame.”
The majority of the Oswego East’s goals this year came during wins. The team only scored four goals in their 11 ties and losses; they were shutout seven times. The Wolves finished with 44 goals in 21 games for a solid average of more than 2 goals per game, but the stat is misleading. In their 10 victories they outscored opponents 40-6.
“I think our guys showed up, but we just struggled to finish,” Syzmanski said. “I thought the first half we played really, really well,” Szymanski said. “Sometimes with our guys, you don’t know who is going to come out ready to go. In the first half I thought we had the better of the play, and they had it in the second half. We just couldn’t connect passes.”
GK: Javier Ruiz
D: Elyas Edders
D: Mariano Ramirez
D: Aaron Godinez
D: Diego Godinez
MF: Landon Kangas
MF: Nick Smith
MF: Dylan Drendel
MF: Caleb Pankiewicz
F: M.J. Hoffman
F: Josh Lopez
GK: Angel Moreno
D: Kevin Laird
D: Ben Sobecki
D: Ryan Walsh
D: Jack Wentzell
MF: Lucas Ensign
MF: Noah Abbas
MF: Nolan Gustafson
MF: Alan Mindock
MF: Mikey Kroll
F: Jesaih Avalos
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Mikey Kroll, sr., MF, Oswego
O: Mikey Kroll (Killyan Avila), 66th minute