SCHAUMBURG – Call it a throwback Tuesday for the St. Charles East boys soccer team.
East has encountered more challenging matches this postseason than last year, but in Tuesday’s IHSA Class 3A Schaumburg Sectional semifinal, the Saints blitzed an opponent much like they regularly did in last year’s postseason, ripping Wheaton North, 5-0.
East advances to Saturday’s sectional final against the winner of today’s Lake Park-Elk Grove semifinal.
“It was nice to put a team away early on, and not let them hang around throughout the game to take off the pressure from us, and let us just play,” East senior Daniel DiLeonardi said.
Daniel DiLeonardi scored East’s second goal of the night after his younger brother, Evan, scored less than three minutes in for a quick Saints edge. Daniel DiLeonardi’s goal came less than a minute after Saints goalkeeper Chris Lucatorto stopped Wheaton North’s Connor Ritchie on a breakaway to keep East on top.
East forward Tyler Robbins made it 3-0 by poking in a point-blank shot late in the first half, and Jordan Moore (penalty kick) and Andrew Shone swelled the Saints’ lead in the second half.
The top-seeded Saints (20-1-4) earned a superlative review from Wheaton North coach Tim McEvilly.
“This is the most clinical group of finishers I’ve ever seen in my life, as far as high school soccer players,” McEvilly said of the Saints. “They get a clean shot on goal, it’s in 90 percent of time, where most high school kids, it’s 10 percent of the time. It’s unbelievable the way they finish, and the efficiency in which they put the ball in the back of the net.”
Daniel DiLeonardi won’t argue the point.
“We were pretty clinical in front of goal, especially in the first half,” he said. “Second half, we probably could have had a few more, but we wanted to play more defensive to hold onto our lead and [seal] the win.”
East was dominant enough that Saints coach Paul Jennison was able to gradually empty his bench as the second half unfolded.
“To have the whole squad play in this game is such a confidence boost,” Jennison said. “I don’t think you can ever put a price on having everyone feel involved in the team mentality. I think it’s a fantastic character-builder for your team, not just having 11 guys out there. I think a lot of times when teams fail, they have 11 guys, and if they have to turn to someone, they’re not ready or they’re not interested.”
One of those bench players Tuesday was Eastern Illinois-bound goalkeeper Mike Novotny, who entered the match with 24 minutes to go. Novotny – who made a strong save within a minute of entering – made his first appearance in more than a month.
Novotny suffered an ankle injury in a frightening collision Sept. 26 that ended the season of Marmion’s Flynn Collins (broken jaw).
Jennison called Novotny’s return a “massive lift” for East down the stretch as the Saints move within one win of what would be their second straight sectional title.
“Having the two quality keepers back in practice really goes give all the guys a lift,” Jennison said. “It makes us so much better as a group, it makes practice so much more cohesive, it raises Chris’s level and, in turn, Mike vibes off of that. Those two seem to be back where they were before Mike got hurt. It’s a great position.”
Note: St. Charles East senior forward TC Hull underwent successful surgery on his torn ACL Tuesday morning, according to his father, Clint Hull. It was the second ACL repair surgery of 2013 for Hull, who led the Saints in scoring last season as a junior.