SCHAUMBURG – St. Charles East unleashed some of the best attributes of its attack down the stretch of Saturday's 3A Schaumburg Sectional final boys soccer match.
Talented finishers assembled in front of the net, upping the unpredictability factor on set pieces. In the run of play, speedy forwards blazed down the flank and let fly.
Just as it had seven weeks ago, Lake Park watched the skilled Saints at work and pushed to challenge and react. The Lancers' final gestures – triumphant shouts and pumped fists – spoke a mouthful about a 1-0 upset against top-seeded East.
"We have all the talent here, and all these guys play soccer year-round. We've played soccer our whole lives," Saints senior defender Kevin Heinrich said. "I mean, it just [stinks] when you see a team score one and pack it back in. But that's what you've got to do to get the win. That's what it is."
Lake Park (20-2-3) earned the game's lone tally with 27:13 remaining in the second half, as Lancers junior forward Oliver Horgan rose above traffic in front of the net to score off a header of a Joe Keane corner kick.
The goal came moments after East goalkeeper Chris Lucatorto elevated to deflect a Mike Catalano shot from distance over the crossbar, which triggered the set piece.
"It got whipped in, it was a great ball in and we just lost the match," Heinrich said. "They wanted it more on that one, and you've just got to come out and win [the ball]. You've just got to do it."
East (20-2-4) looked to take nothing for granted in its bid to oust Lake Park. Players insisted the Saints' 5-1 victory in Roselle on Sept. 10 was long forgotten, simply match No. 6 in an impressive string of 21 straight unbeaten results to start the season.
Try as they might to forget their earlier success against the Lancers, though, the Saints know their streak will define their season, which fell four victories short of a 3A state title. When the unbeaten run ended Oct. 16 with a 3-1 loss at Metea Valley – a team East thumped, 7-0, some five weeks earlier – the Saints said they relearned the importance of constant effort and unimpeded focus.
"We've lost twice this season, and both games have been to teams that we've previously battered earlier in the season. I hate to say it, but we picked the worst day of the year to have our most abysmal performance," East coach Paul Jennison said.
"It's hard, because these guys are capable of being the best team in state, and unfortunately, we didn't even belong on the same field as them today. They outworked us, they had more desire for every second ball. You know what, at the end of the day, the best team walked out of here winners today, and I've got to hold my hands up and say it's an absolute nightmare it happened the way it did."
Jennison and the Saints didn't hesitate to credit Lake Park, which outshot East, 12-6, in the first half before East enjoyed a 9-2 edge after intermission.
Catalano, Keane and Co. made it difficult for the Saints to work anything through the middle.
"We prepared for their quickness in practice, working with our outsides, and we just got the defense mentally prepared for this game," said Lancers senior goalkeeper Steven Mack, who earned his third straight shutout.
"I always have confidence in my back line. Never really nervous with them back there. I can always count on them to help me out, and they came up huge this game."
Heinrich made a non-goalkeeper save on a point-blank shot off a Lake Park corner kick about six minutes into the match.
Yellow cards were the story thereafter, as Catalano and East forward Zach Manibog both received bookings in the first 10:54 as the result of physical play.
With about 3:10 remaining, Manibog lunged for a Tyler Robbins corner kick – just the Saints' third corner of the match – but could not get his body on it. About three minutes later, a Daniel DiLeonardi blast from the right side sailed just over the crossbar.
The Saints counted just a few other chances, but struggled to click consistently.
"That's the most frustrating part," Jennison said. "We didn't even have 10 minutes where we were in complete control. We didn't connect. I could go through a million different reasons to why it didn't work tonight, but you know what, it didn't. And like I said, on the big stage, you've got to bring it."
A supersectional qualifer in 2012, East played this season without top weapon TC Hull, who was sidelined with a torn ACL he later re-tore in a late-season comeback bid.
Lake Park advanced to Tuesday's Bartlett Supersectional against Larkin, a team East defeated, 4-2, in the regular season.