WHEATON – The St. Charles East boys soccer team did more than beat rival St. Charles North on Saturday for the IHSA Class 3A Wheaton North Regional title.
The Saints served notice that it's going to take a massive effort to bounce them from this postseason tournament – if it can be done at all.
After his North Stars were drummed by the Saints, 7-1, North coach Eric Willson called East "a well-oiled machine right now."
"That team has clearly got a ton of chemistry, that team clearly works incredibly hard throughout the entire game. ... They've got, in my opinion, an opportunity to go pretty deep into the postseason with a team like that," Willson said.
East's next step is Tuesday's York Sectional semifinal, where Streamwood, the lone Upstate Eight Conference River team to defeat the conference champion Saints this fall, awaits.
On Saturday, East showed it doesn't mind a rematch against familiar competition as the speedy Saints unloaded on their crosstown rival two weeks after blanking North, 3-0, in a regular season meeting.
"This field helps us a lot, too, because it's not a small field," said Saints junior T.C. Hull, who is up to 27 goals on the season after scoring two more against the North Stars. "The field's pretty big, it's on turf, so the touches are all true, the bounces are all true, so we know what's going to happen.
"North was playing pretty deep this game so we had time to play throughout the middle and have our center-mids on the ball, which helps because they're good on the ball, and getting our outside-mids up helped."
The North Stars (9-9-2) woke up the Saints in a hurry as North junior Logan Dunne caught East flat-footed 72 seconds into the match for a 1-0 North Stars lead.
East (18-2-1) responded about as quickly as possible. It took only 15 seconds for Saints junior Jake Sterling to tie the match, aided by a deflection.
"In my biggest nightmare of the way the game could start, that would have had to been it, giving up a goal in the first [minute-plus]," East coach Paul Jennison said. "To get one back straight way alleviated somewhat the horrible feeling in my stomach, but to put the second one in was great, and then when we put the third one in, it was a case of how could we deal with the rest of the game."
Sophomore Taylor Ortiz and Hull scored to make it 3-1 East by the midway point of the first half, and the Saints added a back-breaking score as the the first-half clock expired when junior Andrew Shone volleyed one past North freshman goalkeeper Kevin Sabres for a 4-1 East advantage.
"I looked up on the clock and saw 15 seconds left and the ball was at [midfield]," Shone said. "I know that everybody on the team knows to get up in that position. We had like five guys in the box, so that's just showing we're not giving up when the time's going off the clock."
Sabres was playing in relief of usual North starting goalkeeper Billy Larsen. Larsen, a junior, has been running a high fever this week, and "was devastated" to be unable to play in the regional final, Willson said.
Thrusting an inexperienced keeper into a game like Saturday's was far from ideal but Willson had bigger bones to pick than the goalkeeping.
"Yeah, sure, [East played great], but seven goals is seven goals," Willson said. "It's incredibly disappointing the way we defended today. As good as they move and as good as they are offensively, it's still, to me, unacceptable to defend the way we did and expect to win a game."
East senior Michael Macek scored less than a minute into the second half, and Hull and Daniel DiLeonardi added the final tallies to balloon the Saints' lead.
The regional championship was East's first since Jennison took over the program in 2008, breaking a nasty string of postseason disappointments for Jennison between the East boys and girls programs.
"This was a massive monkey off my back in terms of losing seven or eight [in a row] between the boys and the girls in the regional final," Jennison said. "These guys, they put on a fantastic performance."