After waiting 44 seasons to appear in the state semifinals, St. Ignatius coach James Luzzi didn’t mind waiting an extra half hour or so to see if his team could advance to the Class 2A state championship match.
The Wolfpack rewarded his patience by knocking off Wheaton Academy 2-1 on penalty kicks Friday at Hoffman Estates. St. Ignatius will try to win its first state title in program history Saturday when it plays Washington in the final.
“This is just awesome for us,” Luzzi said. “We’re so pleased just to get into the Final Four. It was an historical situation for our school, but to come down here and after going one goal down, coming back and tying it up, playing their hearts out, basically doing everything the coaches asked them to do, this couldn’t be more satisfying.”
St. Ignatius (19-5-2) trailed 1-0 before Bryan Long knocked home a cross from Marco Sanchez midway through the second half. After that it was a battle of goalies as Wheaton Academy’s Drew Sezonov (11 saves) and St. Ignatius keeper John Marks (six saves) took turns making diving stops to keep the game tied through regulation and 20 minutes of overtime.
The shootout that followed was a classic. It went eight rounds, with the Wolfpack prevailing 7-6. One St. Ignatius shooter missed wide, but Marks stopped two Wheaton shots, including the final one by Grant Rougas.
“That was fun,” Marks said. “I’ve always had fun with PKs. I think everyone on the team knows that. Obviously it’s a good way or a terrible way to end a game. Obviously, we got the good way.”
Marks said he got some encouragement from Long before the shootout began.
“He just told me this is me, this is four years we’ve been waiting for this and it was my time to shine, and it happened,” Marks said. “It’s all about being confident and knowing what to do and obviously I got to tip two of [the shots and] got two more of them.”
Wheaton Academy (22-4-1) had scored first when defender Marshall West volleyed home on a corner kick from Lucas Hoepner with 30:32 remaining in the second half. But the Warriors, who were attempting to reach their first title match, had two other chances snuffed by Marks in overtime and several more wiped out by the Wolfpack defense.
“I thought we created a couple chances that on any given day, we would put away,” Wheaton Academy coach Jeff Brooke said. “I thought their keeper had great presence in the box. He’s a good goalkeeper.
“We always say we have to finish those chances in a big game and today it just wasn’t the case. Unfortunately we were on the wrong end of the shootout but otherwise I’m proud of the guys.”
The Warriors now have lost two consecutive state semifinals on penalty kicks. They fell to eventual champion Peoria Notre Dame by the same score last year but avenged that defeat with a 2-0 victory in the supersectional.
“It’s tough, especially as it was literally the exact same situation as last year and Peoria Notre Dame even told us, ‘this is your year, you guys are going to get it this year,’” said Zeb Lewis, who along with Hoepner and Casey Zimmerman converted penalty kicks to keep Wheaton alive. “So we went into the shootout thinking we’re going to get this. And that’s one of the best shootouts I’ve ever seen. I’m just in shock right now.”
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