PALATINE – After a fierce battle between two Chicagoland powerhouses, Palatine eased past Stevenson in a pulsating Fremd Sectional semifinal encounter Tuesday night.
The second-seeded Pirates have navigated uncharted waters in their past two matches.
In the regional final against host Warren Oct. 20, Palatine trailed and then needed overtime to take a 2-1 win. The scenario played out again Tuesday.
"That game with Warren was the first time this season that we fell behind," said Sebastian Khoury, the Pirates dynamic forward. “I never had any doubt we would keep our focus and composure in order to come back and get the win.”
The senior turned in an electric performance. Palatine found the equalizer in the 67th minute and the game-winner 19 minutes later after his corner kicks.
"His pace, touch, and vision are such an asset to us," said Pirates manager Aaron Morris. “He will take anyone on to put pressure on any backline. If teams throw more guys at him, he sees it as a challenge. That opens things up for others."
"Our focus coming into tonight was to defend their set pieces, flicks and our box," said Patriots manager PepeJon Chavez. “But we were unable to be clean on all three. In the end, that's what cost us."
The first 15 minutes of play produced little from either side. Neither could find paydirt in a scoreless first half.
Off an early corner near the start of the second period, Stevenson senior Shu Aoyagi forced Pirates keeper Alex Ganji to punch his serve out of the area, but the ball carried to an unmarked Jack Bacher, who steered in the opener in the 46th minute.
Palatine was unshaken.
"We have tremendous leadership on this team, led by our captains and other seniors, who are exceptional young men," said Morris. “I knew the guys would not hang their heads when we went a goal down.”
Third-seeded Stevenson, which finished third in Class 3A last fall, had a wonderful opportunity to double its advantage in the 55th minute. However, a well-struck snap-shot from Chris Konieczny was saved by Ganji.
After William Rokosh saved a goal by stopping a Devin Ashby blast in the 64th minute off a nice pass from Khoury, the Pirates, inspired by nearly drawing level, came right back to earn a corner.
Khoury turned provider when his corner serve, which stayed low on the turf , found Karan Toor at the back post for a nifty one-touch past Rokosh, who had no chance on the 67th-minute equalizer.
The goal energized the Pirates (20-0-3). Their raucous crowd watched their heroes claim three more corners and deep throws. In addition, Toor threatened with a redirected header that Rokosh saved.
When no breakthrough materialized to decide the contest, two 10-minute extra sessions extended the suspense of the night.
When the clock restarted, it was all Pirates.
Rokosh pushed a Damien Drzewiecki right-footed blast up and onto the roof.
David Kozeav sent Khoury through, but another valiant save from Rokosh kept the scoreline intact, though only for a few moments more.
Another Palatine corner kick meant another dangerous serve from Khoury. Stevenson was unable to clear the area, and an opportunistic Adrian Atanassov claimed his ninth goal of the season with a 16-yard cracker inside the far post 13 minutes from time.
"Seba (Sebastian Khoury) whipped a great ball into the mix, and I was able to beat their keeper going the other way," said Atanassov, who also scored in the regional final.
Stevenson (16-3-2) pushed numbers the entire second extra-session but were unable to land a shot on target.
"Palatine impressed with their leadership, which inspired their teammates to dig deep down to be strong both mentally and physically when they needed it most," said Chavez. “I am proud of our effort and what this team has accomplished this year. Those who return will learn a lot from this game tonight."
Palatine will face top-seeded Glenbrook North on Friday for the chance to lift its first sectional trophy since 1995. The Pirates won the state tournament in 1994 and finished third in state the following year.