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Game story: Early strike carries Crystal Lake South past Rochester

By Chris Walker, 11/04/23, 1:00AM CDT

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Velasco’s 1th-minute goal holds up in 1-0 win

HOFFMAN ESTATES — Teams know that stopping Nolan Getzinger is a key to shutting down Crystal Lake South.
 
Nico Velasco knows that his senior teammate usually is going to find a way to score or he’s going to set up one of his teammates to do the finishing.
 
During Friday afternoon’s Class AA state semifinal against Rochester, Getzinger set the table for Velasco in the 11th minute and the Gators made the goal stand up in a 1-0 victory.
 
Crystal Lake South (21-4-1) will play for the second state title in school history on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. against Notre Dame (Peoria), which the Gators beat to win the Class AA state title in 2018.
 
“It’s a great feeling to do in a state semifinal,” Velasco said about his game-winner. “I just read what Nolan was going to see. We’ve been practicing the last four years together, and I just had to put it bottom-left corner. It was an amazing goal.”
 
Velasco, who was named the Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match, eyed the same opening that Getzinger saw, gained possession and fired in a shot a couple feet inside the far post from just under 20 yards away.
 
“I was envisioning it and always turning my head to see,” Velasco said. “I saw a gap in between and so did Nolan. We kind of read that together, and I had to take a touch in and shoot it.”
 
Rochester junior goalkeeper Joel Brock was hoping he could deny the shot but simply couldn’t get to it.
 
“I felt like I was pretty close,” Brock said. “If it wasn’t such a good shot, I might’ve gotten some of it. There’s not a lot I can do in that situation. It came down our right side. They crossed it in, and it got through. With that defense it doesn’t happen very much. We just got unlucky. It was a good finish, too.”
 
Getzinger has been involved in countless scoring plays like that one, and earned his school-record 28th assist.

“There are not enough words I’m going to be able to use to describe what Nolan does,” Gators coach Brian Allen said. “He sees the game at a different level, he anticipates things and sees things before they develop. 
 
“He has good chemistry with everyone on the field. When he has an opportunity with a seam ball, he was able to find Nico through on that, and he does so much stuff beyond that.”
 
Like making everyone around him better.
 
“He makes his teammates that much more dynamic,” Allen said. “He opens up space for Ali (Ahmed) up-top and gets the wingers involved. And then there’s his ball-winning ability. I’m glad he’s on our side. And he’s a terrific leader, too, and the guys fed off of that today.”
 
Rochester (19-6-0) created a few opportunities, including one not even two minutes before the Gators scored. Junior Landon Kutscher fired a shot at Crystal Lake South goalkeeper Chris Slawek at point-blank range, but the senior rejected it.
 
“It’s what we’ve come to rely on with Chris,” Allen said. “He’s been steady for us all year and is usually good for one of those game-changing saves. He’s done it a lot in the playoffs for us. That’s a big reason why we’ve been able to keep the zeroes.”
 
While the stress of maintaining a one-goal advantage was evident, so was the poise and patience of a Crystal Lake South side that wasn’t in uncharted waters, though the Gators were playing at state for the first time since 2019’s runnerup finish.
 
“It was very stressful to keep it at zero and keep ourselves ahead,” Gators senior defender Pierce Johnson said. “We had to stay calm and composed. I kept telling myself to stay calm, and we’ll get through it.”
 
They got through it together.
 
“I thought we stayed very defensively compact the whole game,” Johnson said. “The whole backline and the mids played great. We played total team defense.”
 
The Rockets didn’t give the Gators many chances while giving themselves 70 minutes to pursue the elusive equalizer. It didn’t arrive.
 
“Defensively, I thought we did a very good job,” Rockets coach Chad Kutscher said. “I don’t think their all-stater (Getzinger) got any looks at all. I don’t think (Ali Ahmed) up-top was as effective as I saw in some of the games they played. I think defensively, we did a good job on those two.”
 
Offensively, the Rockets fired a handful of chances throughout the game, doing their best to avoid getting frantic after falling behind so early.
 
“In the attack, we needed a little more. Maybe I should’ve gone with more of a three-forward system earlier,” Kutscher said. “You’re down a goal, and you don’t necessarily want to start throwing everything into the attack, because you’re one play away from tying the game up.”
 
Kutscher said the Rockets had some good opportunities especially in the first half.
 
“Brayden Trello was able to get in behind and really cause them some problems on that side and put in some good crosses,” Kutscher said. “We had a couple of good looks; their goalie had to make a couple of good saves. All in all, I thought we did a pretty good job. I think Crystal Lake has a style that is unique. They have a style that if you get down 1-0 to them, you’re really going to have a tough time coming back.”
 
There was a huge scare in the 57th minute after Getzinger and Rochester senior midfielder Major Gibson knocked heads while battling for a cross. Both players were able to return. 
 
“When (Getzinger) went out, I think the guys rallied,” Allen said. “Nick Prus stepped in huge, which he’s done all year for us, and he’s battling a little something. I think the whole team said to follow Nolan’s lead and grind it out.”
 
Now the Gators are a win away from being state champions again and a familiar foe awaits.
 
“I didn’t really ever expect this,” Getzinger said. “I knew we could, but at the beginning of the season it’s not what you think of, but to play this many games and still be here, it’s a great feeling.”
 
Rochester was held scoreless for just the third time this fall.
 
“We were right on the doorstep a lot of times, but we didn’t finish so I guess it doesn’t matter,” Rockets senior forward Adan Nieves said. “We never felt like we were out of reach. We felt we were right there the whole time.”
 
Now the Rockets will try to regroup and finish with a win in Saturday’s third place game against St. Laurence, bright and early at 9 a.m.
 
“We were focused on winning the whole thing,” Kutscher said “This will be the last one we’re playing together, so that’s tough.”
 
 
Starting lineups

Rochester 
GK: Joel Brock
D: Landon Kutscher
D: Carson Berberet
D: Cohen Spengler
MF: Brayden Trello
MF: Major Gibson
MF: Brenden McArdle
MF: Lach Sullivan
F: Tucker Spraetz
F: Adan Nieves
 
 
Crystal Lake South
GK: Chris Slawek
D: Diego Paguada
D: Blake Marunde
D: Pierce Johnson
D: Garrett Hess
MF: Nick Prus
MF: Nolan Getzinger
MF: Nico Velasco
MF: Mason Ross
MF: Brendan Lewis
F: Ali Ahmed

Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Nico Velasco, sr., MF, Crystal Lake South

 
Scoring summary
 
First half 
C: Nico Velasco (Nolan Getzinger), 11’
 
Second half 
No scoring