Wildcats clinch MSL East and conference birth en route to defeating former conference champs
by Alex Gleyzer, staff reporter
Players, coaches, and fans alike all knew about the stakes heading into Thursday’s game against Palatine. The Wildcats would have a chance to advance to the MSL Conference final, and the only team standing in their way would be the former champions, Palatine.
Palatine would look to play spoiler on a big Wildcat night, however the Wildcats look to prove too much for the Pirates.
The Wildcats began the game by playing Wildcat soccer and controlling ball possession. Wheeling attempted to crash the goalie box during corner kicks and toss ins, but the Pirates goalie would react in advance to clear the air balls out.
After sticking to a more committed ground game, the Wildcats came out roaring with scoring chances. All the players would start to get involved by making clean passes out of the defensive zone and into the feet of the forwards.
With just 23 minutes expired, Jose Garcia, senior, would receive a key pass at midfield only to deke out four Palatine defenders to score the game’s opening goal.
The Cats would enter the second half up 1-0 and look to sustain offensives pressure. Palatine on the other hand would bring its own pressure and continue to make the game interesting.
After a shot off the crossbar and a couple key corner kicks, Palatine would tie the game at 1-1 after a Pirates forward shot the ball and deflected off the hands of Wildcat goalie Gary Mendoza, senior, and into the net.
Palatine would not look back continuing to press offensively, but The Wildcats were their to answer any pressure causing much back and forth action. Players on both sides would display their stamina by continuing to run hard and play physical.
“We practice hard and it shows. I have to keep my stamina and endurance at the best I can to continue to make myself present. I try to set myself up with someone my height to win the head balls and win the physical play,” Michael Hernandez, senior, said.
Wheeling would increase their intensity for the ball looking to obtain the ball anyway they could. Defender Fabian Acosta Jr., junior, would add to that by looking to obtain possession on a fifty fifty ball only to be given a yellow card for his rough play.
“It was kind of a dangerous play, the ref did a good job calling it. I went for a fifty fifty ball, the call was made and I had to deal with it,” Acosta said.
Palatine would use this yellow card as a change of momentum. The Pirates came charging against the Wildcats with another key chance going off the crossbar once more, and a header that would go just wide.”
With two minutes remaining in the game the Wildcats would need to pull out another dramatic finish, a task that Garcia was ready to do. Garcia would gain possession of the ball in the offensive zone and look to move it up.
Garcia would get behind the defender and continue moving to his right before shooting the ball above the goal and into the Pirates net. Garcia’s second of the goal of the game would prove to be the game would come with just 48 seconds left in the game, and prove to be the game winner.
“Last week we lost at the end of the game and now we won at the end. It feels good to be on the other side and get a win. We put in a lot of hard work as a team and it’s beginning to pay off,” Garcia said.
As the clock struck zero, the Wildcats would rush the field and to their fans to celebrate the hard earned victory, and divisions crown. With the victory over Palatine, Wheeling would clinch the MSL East, and their ticket to the conference final.
“We didn’t want to go into overtime because it would come down to the golden goal. One mistake could have cost us, but I’m glad we finished them (Palatine) off. It makes me nervous with all these late game finishes, but as long as we get the job done we’ll be in good shape,” Frankie Estrada, junior, said.
The Wildcats will finish off the season tonight when they head to Buffalo Grove to take down the long time rival. Even with a division title under their belt, the Wildcats view this game as another big chance to make their presence felt and get some revenge.
“A lot of the guys from last year are still here and they remember the game against Buffalo Grove. We have always had some bad blood between us and we look to continue that tomorrow,” Ed Uhrik, coach, said.
The players will look to upset Buffalo Grove tomorrow with a big win over the Bison on their homecoming. Afterwards, the team will have six days to prepare for their big conference showdown against Barrington.
“I felt excited after our win tonight, I felt like we accomplished something but the look on the player’s faces reminded we still have not done anything yet. They were not satisfied and that brought me to reality that we still have work to be done,” Coach Uhrik added.