CRYSTAL LAKE — Saturday saw a great player come through in a pivotal moment of a big game. Or, more specifically: Crystal Lake South’s Nolan Getzinger scored a late game-winning goal in the regional final.
And it didn’t really surprise anyone that the Gators’ senior midfielder rose up to meet the moment.
“Nolan has been doing that for four years for us,” Crystal Lake South coach Brian Allen said. “He’s a special player, and special players in big games take their moments. He did that for us today.”
Getzinger’s header with 3:19 remaining in regulation gave the hosts a 1-0 win over Lake Forest in the final their Class AA regional final.
Teammate Hayden Stone sent a perfect corner kick from the left side to the far post. Getzinger saw his chance and left his feet. He got his head on the ball and sent a piercing shot into the upper 90 for the game’s lone goal.
Lake Forest scrambled for an equalizer in the waning minutes, but Gators keeper Chris Slawek and his stout backline held firm.
Saturday’s 1-0 win sends second-seeded Crystal Lake South (17-4-1) to a sectional semifinal against no. 7-seed Grayslake North (12-8-0), which upset second-seeded Wauconda 3-2 on Saturday. On a crazy weekend of results, sectional host Grayslake Central was also ousted.
Stone and Getzinger provided the day’s heroic moment for the home team. Afterward, Getzinger quickly dispelled the notion that headed goals are seldom perfectly designed or executed.
“You’re just trying to get your head on it,” Getzinger said, laughing. “Once you’re up there, you’re not even sure where the ball is.
“Hayden played a great ball, and I was just able to win the header. That was a perfect ball. We had multiple corners so finally getting that perfect ball was great.”
The goal gave Getzinger 14 for the season, to go with 24 assists. But of course, it wouldn’t be accurate to distill Crystal Lake South’s win to Getzinger’s goal alone.
The Gators stalwart defensive effort gave them their fifth-consecutive shutout, which truly swung the door wide open to a sixth-consecutive regional title for Allen’s program.
Team captain Garrett Hess, Pierce Johnson, Diego Paguada and Blake Marunde have played stellar defensively, and keeper Chris Slawek commands the goalmouth.
“It’s just communication, especially for me,” Hess said. “It’s a pulley system and that works out best for us. I’ve been playing together with some of these guys since we were eight or nine years old, and now the chemistry is really tight.”
Sub-plots played out all over the pitch. For starters, the host Gators started fast and found some prime scoring chances through 20 minutes.
Outside midfielder Mason Ross set the tone for the Gators’ first half just two minutes in. He broke in at the left-side post and fired on Lake Forest keeper Charlie Walsh.
Walsh answered with the first half tone for the Scouts -- he stoned Ross at point-blank range. Walsh saved a Getzinger offering one minute later, and at four minutes Gators striker Ali Ahmed sent a good chance wide from the 18.
Ahmed, who has netted 24 goals this season, found dangerous space consistently through 20 minutes. But his shots either flew wide or Walsh turned them away.
Not surprisingly, Ahmed and Getzinger were the two chief targets on the Lake Forest white board heading into the game.
“I thought we contained Getzinger and Ahmed pretty well,” Lake Forest coach Rob Parry said. “That’s their Plan A and Plan B. We thought if we forced them to plans C and D, then we’d have a chance. They did cut through us a couple times … but Charlie played great in goal. He was brave. There were a couple times they were inside the six-yard, box but he played well.”
Lake Forest was dangerous in the counter in the first half but struggled to find dangerous shots. Crystal Lake South earned a good number of free kicks and corner kicks in the half but struggled to find the high-quality serves needed to capitalize.
Ahmed hit a shot off the post in the run of play in the 21st minute, and Walsh stopped another Ahmed shot at the post at 34 minutes.
“The first half we created a lot of chances, but it was just one of those days,” Ahmed said. “It just didn’t want to go in. But it’s like a (baseball) reliever’s mindset, where you just have to forget about it and keep pushing.”
Allen was happy with the steady pressure his boys applied from the opening whistle.
“I thought we started on the right foot,” Allen said. “We had a handful of chances and then some. Sometimes you run into a hot keeper but for sure, we would have wanted one (goal) to go to loosen it up.”
Lake Forest was ready to take its turn applying attacking pressure in the second half. Speedy striker George Thomas tore up the grass along the left side, and midfielder Tyler Bernstein found teammates’ feet and dangerous space for himself. Thanks in part to their efforts, the Scouts took possession of the ball through the first 20 minutes of the second half.
As one of the smaller schools in the North Suburban Conference, Lake Forest (8-11-1) does battle with larger schools like Stevenson and Warren every year. Playing against 3A competition burnished the Scouts for the Class AA state playoffs.
“Some of those (larger) schools have some talented athletes on their bench and can go 22 deep with starters on good club teams,” Parry said. “For once it felt (Saturday) like we might have had an edge in depth, so we kept shuttling some forward lines out there. I thought we were starting to tire out their outside backs.
“George (Thomas) was the outlet. He kept getting around, but we just couldn’t connect. So we were getting set pieces, free kicks and corners from our attacking play, but just couldn’t force one across the line.”
Helping to keep Thomas at bay to the greatest extent possible for Crystal Lake South were outside mid Nico Velasco and outside defender Paguada.
“(Thomas) is so dangerous in terms of what he can do to get up and down, so Diego kind of testing him early, and Nico tracking and playing two-way soccer was fantastic,” Allen said. “And Mason (Ross) was solid on the other side, too. We were good in spots where we definitely needed to be good today.
“Rob (Parry) and Ty (Stuckslager) both do a fantastic job. We knew they’d come in well-prepared. When they’re on they’re a very, very good team, and you saw that today. That’s why I’m so proud of our guys for just working through and managing the game efficiently.”
Lake Forest junior Boden Rupprecht sent a shot just wide to start the second half, and Bernstein sent a long one-hopper in on Slawek at 45 minutes. Slawek snared a Thomas header at 47 minutes and saved another Thomas shot taken from 18 yards one minute later.
At 60 minutes, Crystal Lake South began to push back. Getzinger reached the end line on the right side a few times, sent in several crosses and hit a post with a shot at 71 minutes. Walsh saved another Ahmed shot from 18 yards at 75 minutes.
The game’s pivotal corner kick came when Ahmed found Velasco for a shot that deflected off a defender and over the end line in the 77th minute. Then came Stone’s perfect serve and Getzinger’s header that put the game’s only goal on the scoreboard.
“He’s a special player -- when you have a work-rate like he does for a full 80 (minutes),” Allen said of Getzinger. “Nolan is kind of the catalyst for the rest of the team for that.
“And not just in the final third but in the midfield, too. Him and Nick Prus started to win the midfield with Brendan (Lewis) and that turned the tide and gave us a good chance there.”
Combating Getzinger’s work-rate was left to Lake Forest’s Rupprecht, who put forth a yeoman’s effort all morning.
“Boden Rupprecht is a name for the future,” Parry said. “I think he’ll be one of the top kids in Lake County, if not the state next year. He took on the challenge of matching up with Getzinger, and I thought he did a really nice job. He’s our holding mid. I told him he didn’t have to outplay Getzinger; just don’t let him be the star of the show all day.”
Getzinger ultimately grabbed the day’s headline, and earned the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match honor in the process.
But Crystal Lake South’s string of five shutouts — and 12 shutouts for the year — also deserve high billing.
“Not that we were poor defensively early on, but when we had lulls, other teams were able to capitalize,” Allen said. “Today, when those lulls happened, the backline really clamped down and put (shooters) at angles where at least Chris (Slawek) can make some good saves. And credit Chris — he took three or four balls away in the box that were dangerous, and that’s what we need in the playoffs.”
Parry will bid farewell to a bevy of key seniors in center back Austin Okada, left back Dominick Ziaja, keeper Charlie Walsh and striker Campbell Allan.
“Those are big losses. But apart from that, we have a lot of horses coming back,” Parry said.
GK: Charlie Walsh
D: Tyler Klein
D: Connor Gustafson
D: Dominick Ziaja
D: Austin Okada
MF: Griffin Werner
MF: Boden Rupprecht
MF: Tyler Bernstein
MF: Ryan Knight
F: Campbell Allan
F: George Thomas
Crystal Lake South
GK: Chris Slawek
D: Garrett Hess
D: Diego Paguada
D: Blake Marunde
D: Pierce Johnson
MF: Nick Prus
MF: Nolan Getzinger
MF: Nico Velasco
MF: Brendan Lewis
MF: Mason Ross
F: Ali Ahmed
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Nolan Getzinger, sr., MF, Crystal Lake South
Crystal Lake South: Getzinger (Stone), 77th minute