HOFFMAN ESTATES – St. Laurence’s second trip to the state semifinal in program history started off with some rough tumbles – to the ground.
The Vikings, who placed fourth in the 2019 Class AA state tournament, were enjoying a wave of momentum heading into Friday’s late afternoon state semifinal against Notre Dame (Peoria).
But the bigger and stronger Irish, who have a long and storied state history includes the Class AA title last season, set the tone with their physical and rough play in the first 10 minutes.
One of the biggest players on the Vikings -- in height and build at 5-foot-10, -- Edgar Perez endured two hard tumbles to the cold turf in two-minute span early in the first half. Teammate Diego Lugo was taken down hard on a non-call in the 19th minute.
With the referees allowing both teams to play, the Irish, who have five players 6-foot-2 or taller, clearly benefitted from the physical nature of the game in the opening half.
“At first, I was expecting it to (be physical) because I watched a lot of film,” Perez said. “They have a lot of very strong players, and they came rough at me. I had to get my teammates to help me out a lot, because I’m not the strongest player, but I knew I could work around it.”
The playoff-tested Irish showed their experience by playing with patience and relying on their backline to slow down the Vikings. Notre Dame (Peoria) junior midfielder Thatcher Hogan sparked the victory, scoring both goals in the 2-0 win to help offset the absence of all-state junior forward Kayden Hudson, who has 40 goals this season.
The Irish (22-1-3) a title repeat and the fifth state championship in program history against Crystal Lake South in the title game on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
The Gators defeated the Irish in a shootout in the 2018 Class AA state championship game.
The Irish have some good news due to the expected return of Hudson for Saturday’s game. Notre Dame has dealt with its fair share of adversity lately. It lost standout junior midfielder Maximillian Matarelli to a season-ending leg injury late in the regular-season.
“As a coach, I’m extremely excited for my team,” longtime Notre Dame (Peoria) coach Mike Bare said. “We came into this game a little bit shorthanded. Two of our top players didn’t play in this match. I can’t really speak to the matter of (Hudson), but I can tell you that he’s going to be back tomorrow playing for us.
“There’s been a lot of adversity that our kids have had to battle through in the last 12 hours, so I couldn’t be more proud of how they have handled themselves, and how Kayden handled himself. We needed a total team effort today from everybody, because we played a really good team. St. Laurence has a lot of good individual players. It was really a team effort to keep them out of the net. We got the goals we needed without Kayden.
“We needed some other players to step up and put the ball in the back of the net. Thankfully, Thatcher did that today. I told Thatcher that I don’t think he’s had the best postseason overall, not playing to the level he was capable of playing. He really stepped up and got two fantastic goals, especially the second one was fantastic. I thought our goalie Teddy Dimler and our entire backline and defensive midfielder were phenomenal today.”
St. Laurence coach Jaime Alonso, a star forward for Young and UIC, said the Irish’s size advantage played a factor in the game.
“Obviously, it’s an emotional night for both sides,” Alonso said. “I thought we played our brand of soccer tonight. We lost concentration on a couple of plays and some key fouls on our end that could’ve gone either way. I think we had to defend them better, and we didn’t.
“We could’ve been little sharper in front of the goal. I thought we did a fantastic job moving the ball and getting it into wide areas and beating them, but once we were in front of the goal, we weren’t sharp enough to get one in. They had some really good players. Our game plan was to make it uncomfortable, try and make them defend in wide areas. There was a spell of about 15 to 20 minutes, where we went too direct and were losing a lot of first and second balls. That’s where they started kind of dictating the game. We broke their initial line of pressure, and it appeared we were the better team, but tonight we couldn’t find that final product.”
The Vikings (14-8-2) have an early wake-up call on Saturday for their next game. They have a tough task attempting to regroup from the shutdown defeat against playing Rochester in the third place game at 9 a.m.
Alonso said his team should be fired up to face the Rockets, who lost 1-0 in the first semifinal Friday.
“I told them to keep their head high,” Alonso said. “I thought they played a really good game, but this is how the game of soccer works sometimes. You can get the short end of the stick sometimes. Our goal is to win our last game of the season. We have a shot at doing that, not a lot of teams have that opportunity to win their last game of the season. It would be nice to finish in third place since last time we came to state we finished in fourth place.”
The Vikings never could get in sync against the Irish, relying too much on 1-v-1 play to get past defenders rather than moving the ball around. St. Laurence had long stretches of possession at the start of the game and for the first 30 minutes of the second half. Dimler, who has allowed just 16 goals this season, earned the clean-sheet with seven saves and heady play in the box.
The Vikings had a few near goals, especially in the first half. Clark Herrera had a header that was deflected in the box in the 13th minute. Senior forward Eduardo Perez had two shots from the right side that were saved in the 20th minute. Perez’s bicycle kick from nine yards was easily saved in the 27th minute.
Dimler credited his backline for making his job easier Friday.
“Everybody gave their best and full effort today,” Dimler said. “They had some good players up-top but our backs handled it very well. When there was a half chance, our backs did a great job -- deflected it or put a body on them. A lot of their shots were right to me and easy to handle. I knew my backs would cover me, and I just tried to be ready if I needed to make a play.”
“We started with a senior goalkeeper and had four senior backs in Nathan Oliver, Thomas Graham, Fabi Arellano and Patrick O’Donnell,” Bare said. “Patrick O’Donnell had a great game and showed a lot of guts today after suffering an ankle injury in the supersectional. With a senior goalkeeper and senior backline, we told them championships are won defensively. If we’re not allowing goals, and with the offense we have, we’re going to win a lot of games.”
Hogan pushed his playoff goal total to nine. He welcomed the chance to take the scoring mantle with Hudson sidelined.
“Obviously, I was super excited and knew I had to step up, and I did,” Hogan.
He started the scoring by knocking in a shot from five yards with 4:10 left in the first half. As the ball trickled by three players, Hogan tapped in a shot while standing near the far post for the 1-0 lead.
“The first one I was just waiting at probably the penalty spot on the left side,” Hogan said. “I saw the ball go across, and I thought someone was going to finish it. I was getting ready to celebrate, but it got played back across. I was there for a back-post finish.”
Hogan added an insurance goal in the 71st minute, sending in a header after a roughly 50-yard free kick off the foot of Thomas Graham.
“I had a great ball from Tommy and just drifted to the back post and headed it back in from the front post,” Hogan said.
The second half turned into a card show. The teams combined for seven yellows.
St. Laurence senior midfielder Johnny Esparza closed out the long and frustrating match by drilling a shot wide with 44 seconds left in the game.
Perez, who played his first two years at Mount Carmel, said the Vikings have a chance to close out the season with a win.
“I think we weren’t the best today and had our shaky moments. But in the playoffs we had a whole different mindset and wanted to make a run and go far,” Perez said. “It’s unfortunate to lose this game, but we still have a chance tomorrow to make history for our school.”
St. Laurence senior midfielder Tristan Figueroa said his team needed to play with more energy and determination.
“It was a very physical game, and I thought we should’ve done a lot better with winning first and second balls,” Figueroa said. “I think it all came down to work ethic.”
St. Laurence junior defender Matthew Suchecki said his team’s slow first half set the tone for the game.
“It was a really physical game,” said St. Laurence junior defender Matthew Suchecki. “It was a different game in the second half, and we really played our game. They had two really good chances and scored on both of them.
GK: Vin Diesi
D: Matthew Suchecki
D: Lorenz Garcia
D: Mavan Martinez
D: Clark Herrera
MF: Johnny Esparza
MF: Tristan Figueroa
MF: Saul Garcia
MF: Edgar Perez
F: Aaron Lugo
F: Edgar Perez
Notre Dame (Peoria)
GK: Theodore Dimier
D: Fabi Arellano
D: Patrick O’Donnell
D: Nathan Oliver
D: Thomas Graham
MF: Braden Lehman
MF: Cal Byrkit
MF: Thatcher Hogan
MF: Teddy LaHood
F: Sebastian Salazar
F: Declan Schuler
Chicagoland Man of the Match: Thatcher Hogan, jr., MF, Notre Dame (Peoria)
Notre Dame (Peoria): Hogan (unassisted), 36’
Notre Dame (Peoria): Hogan (Graham), 71’