by Alex Gleyzer, staff reporter
It took 100 minutes, two overtimes and six penalty kick rounds for Wheeling to defeat Barrington, and claim their first MSL Conference championship since 1977.
The Wildcats started the game planning to attack right way and start playing Wildcat soccer. Wheeling would add to their already physical play with Marino Lopez, senior, returning from a leg injury. Lopez would make an impact immediately by having another big body for the Cats to use to be aggressive.
“It feels great to get to play and not have sit on the bench and suffer while the guys are down in the game. I felt a little rusty, but I just had to get to used it since it was a really big game and we were still in it,” Lopez said.
Barrington though would not be intimidated. Both the Cats and Broncos came out ready to play. Wheeling would look to strike early as the Cats pushed the pace for the first ten minutes of the game thanks to Fabian Acousta Jr., junior, and Lopez making key passes out of the defensive zone and to the forwards.
Ivan Mancilla, senior, would continue the pace with an early chance coming from the corner kick. Lopez would put too much into the header causing the ball to fly just past the crossbar and out of play.
Wheeling’s missed chances would be enough for Barrington to gain possession and push back. Barrington would answer with two toss ins and a corner kick allowing them to move the ball forward into the Wildcats zone.
With just 19 minutes remaining in the first half, Barrington forward Logan Morris would score the game’s first goal when a shot went off the crossbar and landed in front of Morris 15 yards from the goal.
The Broncos would not look back after that as they utilized their speed to obtain the ball and pressure the Wildcats defense. However, goalie Gary Mendoza, senior, would be up to the task stopping the next three Broncos shots in the half, including a key acrobatic save to keep the game in reach.
“It was a big game and I had to give it my all tonight. I just had to shake off the first goal and play through it because we were still in the game, and we still believed in ourselves,” Mendoza said.
“We felt pressured because we were losing. We knew that we had to give it our all and have heart heading into the second half,” Francisco Arellano, junior, added.
Wheeling would enter the second half down 1-0, but remained calm and composed. The Cats forwards began playing more aggressive with Mancilla and Jose Garcia, senior, leading the way creating more scoring chances.
Garcia would be the recipient of Mancilla’s toss in, in which Garcia would turn the Barrington defender around and get tripped up 5 yards from the goal, drawing a key penalty kick. 21 minutes into the second half, Garcia would shoot a laser to the right of the goalie and score the Wildcats first goal evening the game at 1-1.
“We had been down in games before and we knew not to panic. There was a lot of excitement before I took the shot, but I just stayed calm and made a simple pass to the back of the net,” Garcia said.
Neither Wheeling nor Barrington would look to give in from that point as the Cats and the Broncos were held at 1-1 at the end of regulation, and would head into overtime looking for the golden goal. Both teams would receive key chances to score as Garcia would make a quick pass to Juan Hernandez, senior, but Hernandez’s chip shot would sail above the net.
Barrington would answer by storming back down the field and obtaining a corner kick. The kick would lead to a great chance as the Broncos forward would head the ball just to the left of the goal. Once again, neither team would score in the extra 20 minutes causing for the game to be decided in penalty kicks.
The Wildcats and the Broncos would be tied after five rounds of penalty kicks with Acousta Jr., Lopez, Arellano, and Garcia scoring. The sixth round would come down to Juan Hernandez with Hernandez shooting the ball to the right of the goalie and giving the Wildcats the 5-4 lead in penalty kicks. Mendoza would answer with a big save after reading the shooter brilliantly and stopping the ball leading the Cats to a 5-4 win in penalty kicks and a 2-1 win overall.
“I pretended like nobody was there and I was just practicing with Gary (Mendoza). I wasn’t expecting to be the last scorer but I was so excited to score and lead my team to the championship,” Hernandez said.
Family and fans would rush the field afterwards looking to celebrate with the Wildcat soccer team, and hoist the conference title. Wheeling would finish off conference play with a 10-1-1 record as well as a win over the West Division champions, Barrington, and a Conference crown.
The Wildcats will look to celebrate this victory and title as much as they can, but not stray away from their next goal, state. Wheeling will begin the first round of the regional playoffs at Maine East on Tuesday looking to add to their conference title with the state hardware.
“We have a lot of confidence in each other and it showed tonight. It was exciting making history, but we are still going to keep focused for what is up ahead. We have to be prepared for any team we play next and continue to win to get to state and win that as well,” Nate Laude, senior, added.