MAYWOOD – Fifteen minutes after the conclusion of Morton’s Class 3A Proviso East Sectional final loss to Lyons on Friday, Mustangs coach Jim Bageanis stood near the middle of the field.
Just a few minutes earlier, his players spent the immediate aftermath of the disappointing end to a strong season handling their emotions. The stinging defeat to Lyons left many players with an unfilled sensation after falling short of their desired goal to reach the state finals.
Several players picked a spot on the turf away from others to decompress. Others found comfort in company, hugging teammates to console them and themselves.
Bageanis was positive during his postgame chat after the 4-2 defeat to Lyons that ended the season of the top-seeded Mustangs. Seconds after his talk Morton’s players slowly dispersed in different directions. Each looked for an exit to leave Theresa L. Kelly Stadium.
From a distance the coach watched Max Aquino do an interview. The star player struggled with his emotions, his eyes welling up during the brief conversation.
As Aquino began walking with his head down, slightly rubbing his eyes, Bageanis took several big steps toward Aquino, put his arm around him and walked with him to the exit.
This was not the vision the Mustangs had for the end of the season. The team, like every other from a top program, aims to raise the trophy after the last game of the season at Hoffman Estates High School.
But the Mustangs (16-6-2) couldn’t topple the second-seeded Lions (18-6-2) in a game that featured contrasting styles of play.
Lyons answered Morton’s pair of first half goals in stunning fashion. The Lions scored three-straight times in a 13-minute span to record a 4-2 victory and advance to their first supersectional since 2018. They lost 1-0 that season at Lewis University to Naperville North, which went on to win for the final time of its three-year title streak.
Lyons overwhelmed the smaller Mustangs with a massive height advantage and the strong throws of senior defender Collin Sullivan. Lyons senior midfielder Declan Kracker, one of the smallest starters on his team, played big with two first half goals. His teammate, 6-foot-3 Owen Suda, closed out the game with the go-ahead goal in the 69th minute and an insurance goal in the 70tt. The senior forward nearly scored a third goal two minutes later.
Thanks to the Kracker and Suda scoring spree, the Lions advance to meet Stagg, a no. 3-seed, at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Morton’s supersectional.
Aquino, a UIC recruit, missed a large number of regular-season games due to an early knee injury, but he returned to make a significant impact for the Mustangs.
He scored the opener, but noted the smaller Mustangs struggled against the stronger and taller Lions. The Lions scored three goals after throw-ins.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the boys,” Aquino said. “It’s hard coming out with a loss like this. We take great pride and took a 2-1 lead. Our hopes were really high. It’s unfortunate, just the way they play. We play a completely different style (than Lyons).
“They play a lot of long balls and a lot of big throw-ins. They don’t seem to touch the ball at all. We like to keep it on the floor and play nice football. It’s two different teams with two different styles of football. It worked for them today, props to them for winning.”
The throws of Sullivan, a Bucknell recruit, were a massive part of the Lyons win.
Lyons coach Paul Labbato said Sullivan is a jack-of-all-trades.
“Collin played great for us,” Labbato said. “He’s a weapon in every position on the field. He saved a potential tying goal by Max. He came out of nowhere to clear the ball back there. That weapon (on the throw-in) is what he’s able to hit the people we are looking for. If it misses those guys, we have other guys to clean it up. It worked out for us today.
“Owen also played great. His fourth goal was a big effort which gave us a little comfort.”
Sullivan said comebacks are the new theme for the Lions.
“We knew we wanted to make history,” Sullivan said. “We haven’t beaten them in the playoffs in 10 years. Sometimes I feel like I’m Superman (on throw-ins), when I just whip it. I surprise myself sometimes. It’s great. (Owen) is the guy in practice I try and get the ball to. It really paid off today and last week. I’m proud of him. We went into the second half knowing we had wind and didn’t want to lose that opportunity. I’m so proud of these guys and getting this far with them. We’re not done. We’re going to keep going. I’m real excited for what’s coming up.”
Standing along the fence to the exit near the buses, Bageanis said his seniors deserve a lot of praise for keeping the program among the best in the state.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Bageanis said. “They were in the game and the effort was there. It was a good and physical game. We just came up short today. We had a chance to get within a goal (late). You have to put those in, especially in the playoffs.
“We had trouble matching up with their kids. They had some good chances. We knew their strength was going to be the throw-ins and corners. We did a decent job on their corners, but not so much on the throw-ins.”
Bageanis said the loss won’t tarnish the legacy his seniors left in the program.
“It’s part of the playoffs,” Bageanis said. “No one likes to end a season with a loss, but unfortunately everyone does except two teams. They executed on their throw-ins. We knew that would be a problem if we gave them throw-ins in a dangerous area. It’s a different style, definitely not our style of play.
“Whatever it takes to get a goal, you have to do it. That wins games. We don’t have any excuses. If we keep the ball on the floor in those areas, they might not have had those chances. I think (Lyons) was having trouble creating chances out of the speed of play. I’m proud of our kids. The team really came together when Max went out.
“We got better each week and we were playing well when we got into the playoffs. We have no shame losing to Lyons. They are a classy program with classy kids and a classy coach. Both teams were sloppy, and it was an ugly game the first time we played this year (a 1-1 tie Sept. 16 in Berwyn). This was a different game.
“I want to thank all of our kids and the fans who come out and support us every game. We have a strong following. Hopefully, we can turn it around next year and go a little bit farther.”
Lyons opened the scoring in the seventh minute Friday. After Sullivan’s great throw-in hit a player in the box, Kracker cleaned it up with the first of his two goals.
Morton quickly countered with goals from Aquino and Sergio Villegas to take a 2-1 lead in the 10th minute. Aquino tied the game at 1-1 after a highlight-reel move from Josh Trujillo, who freed himself from a Lyons defender with a 180-degree move near the sidelines and sent a pass in the box. Aquino headed it home just 29 seconds after the Lyons goal.
“It was just a great cross from Josh,” Aquino said of his seventh goal. “He put in a cross, and it was sort of a match to (Kracker’s goal). He’s a great player. The height difference was pretty big between (us). The ball just went over his head by a little bit, and I got a nice header that hit the side post and went in.”
Less than two minutes later, Villegas drilled a banger from more than 30 yards with 30:28 remaining in the first half that gave Morton its only lead of the match.
After combing for three goals in less than four minutes, the two teams closed out the rest of the half with very little offense.
Labbato said his team regained its focus and benefitted from the strong wind in the second half. Lyons goalie Tyler Balon came up big in the net with several inspiring saves. He made five of his nine stops in the first half when the Mustangs had the weather advantage.
“They really pressed up in the first half, but we got out of the first half only down 2-1,” Labbato said. “We kind of looked at it, changed formations and did a few things different, but it didn’t matter because we got those throw-in goals. It stopped them a little bit. We were just trying to get it down to this end and win the second ball. We got some timely goals. We don’t normally get those.”
One of the tallest, if not the tallest player on the field, Suda rose to the occasion when it mattered. He scored his first goal on short shot off a Sullivan laser throw-in with 11:53 left in regulation for a 3-2 lead. Suda added the final tally of the game after taking a long pass and depositing a slow tap in the net with 10:02 left. He now has 13 goals on the season.
“The first goal was much needed,” Suda said. “We needed it. Mason Burda had a perfect through-ball over the top. All I had to do was slot it. It was an easy tap in on the second (goal). We never dropped our tempo. We had an amazing effort through the whole game. … Collin is such a weapon for us. We scored three goals off him. It’s like a corner. It’s an absolute weapon.”
Morton senior midfielder Ivan Ramirez was the last Mustang player to leave the field.
“We played really well and moved the ball and were up 2-1 and had all the momentum, but things took a bad turn,” said Ramirez, who is also a UIC recruit. “Their height just killed us. Our tallest guy is probably me, and I’m not (very tall). They were too tall for us. We tried to battle it out and keep the ball on the floor, but we couldn’t always do it. They executed and scored on their goals.
“We had some ups and downs. I was on the (varsity) for three years. We made state in my sophomore year. It’s been a good three years for me, the best I could ask for.”
Aquino said his time with the top club, which also included the Class 3A 2021 runnerup finish to West Chicago, was unforgettable.
“I had a short two-year career, but they were sensational,” he said. “I was trying to help carry our legacy. Every year we have a good team. The plan was to make it to state, but I feel good we won a regional and had our fans come to a sectional final. It’s unfortunate it ended this way.”
GK: Tyler Balon
D: Collin Sullivan
D: Harrison Hoekstra
D: Daniel Svelnis
D: Mason Santos
MF: Declan Kracker
MF: Austen Wisniewski
MF: Mason Burda
MF: Haris Sarajlija
MF: Jimmy Brejcha
F: Owen Suda
GK: Diego Vargas
D: Julian Soto
D: Rafael Ramirez
D: Josh Trujillo
D: Christian Valadez
MF: Jonathan Almaguer
MF: Alexis Meza Dominguez
MF: Caleb Mendoza
MF: Sergio Villegas
F: Max Aquino
F: Ivan Ramirez
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Owen Suda, sr., F, Lyons
Lyons: Kracker (Sullivan), 7’
Morton: Aquino (Trujillo), 8’
Morton: Villegas (unassisted), 10’
Lyons: Kracker (Sullivan), 58’
Lyons: Suda (Sullivan), 69’
Lyons: Suda (Burda), 70’