Judah Christian overcomes STM hurdle, advances to regional final

Judah Christian overcomes STM hurdle, advances to regional final

CHAMPAIGN — The history is widely known and often discussed.

Judah Christian and St. Thomas More boys' soccer representatives referenced it after Wednesday's Class 1A regional semifinal tilt.

The Sabers have had the Tribe's number.

So when former Judah coach Graham Berry approached current STM leader James Johnson following the sixth-seeded Tribe's 3-2 triumph over the fourth-seeded Sabers, the conversation was different from past chats.

Berry acknowledged Judah previously struggled to give STM a good game. "But this time, we did," he finished.

"Just needed to get rid of you to do it," Johnson jokingly responded.

No matter the elusive winning formula, the Tribe (10-7-2) captured it versus the Sabers (13-7-4) to collect Judah's first postseason victory over STM since 2012.

Between that result and Wednesday's match, the Sabers outscored the Tribe 16-2 in four playoff bouts and knocked Judah out in the regional championship round three times.

"It means a lot to me and for the whole team," said senior Micah Mills, who converted a penalty kick with 10 minutes, 26 seconds remaining for the winning tally. "It's been years since we beat this team. But it's just playing our hearts out, and give all the glory to God."

Second-year Tribe boss Josh Birky possessed just three substitute options on the afternoon. He knew his boys were in for a dogfight, especially once they pulled ahead 2-0 in the opening half.

"We've been waiting for this all season," Birky said. "They've had this capacity, and to see them kind of put it all together in the most important game is, for us, just fun."

Junior Joe Linsner was the difference-maker throughout. He tore through the STM defense for the icebreaker less than 10 minutes in, then pounced on a loose ball next to Sabers junior netminder Dan Hettinger for another marker prior to intermission.

"We had talked about if we could get the first goal, perhaps Judah would start thinking about the last couple years out here and going that way," Johnson said. "But I think when they got that (first) goal, they gained confidence from it, and I think that we started to feel the pressure."

It took some time for STM to respond to that intensity — at least in a way that counted on the scoreboard.

Directly off a Sabers throw-in with 19 minutes to play, junior Taylor Crawford deposited a loose ball behind senior keeper Griffin Fazio to halve the deficit.

About three minutes later, Tribe sophomore Nathan Kereri was whistled for a hand ball in the box. STM junior Joe Sellett turned that miscue into a penalty-kick goal.

"Judah was, in my opinion, along with us, some of the better teams in the regional," Johnson said. "We expected it to be hard, but we definitely hoped to get the result."

Instead of faltering, however, Judah offered a significant retort.

Even as Sabers senior Joey Walker profusely denied contact at the 10:26 mark, he was assessed a yellow card in the box. Linsner stepped up for the PK.

"I didn't see a thing," Birky admitted. "I turned my back, and I was talking to two of our players to keep me calm.

"I listened to the reaction of, 'No, no' and 'Yes,' and then we were good."

But it wasn't Linsner beating Hettinger. In fact, the goalie stopped Linsner on consecutive bids before Mills pushed through the throng of white and green jerseys to finish a decisive chance.

"Best feeling ever right there," said Mills, who shifted from center back to midfielder prior to this season. "I always thought Birky would keep me in the back for the rest of my life. I'm really glad he (moved me up), and it's been great."

Judah's athletes get to enjoy a couple days off school before Saturday's 1A STM Regional final versus No. 7 Unity (12-6-1), which eliminated top seed Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley on Tuesday.

The Tribe has a Saber-sized monkey of its back and now seeks two things: it's first regional crown since 2004, and a spot in its own sectional next week.

"We're going to be resting. A lot of ice," Mills said with a laugh. "We're just going to ... play at the same intensity we just did."

Class 1A Oakwood Regional semifinal

Hoopeston Area 4, Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin 4. The third-seeded Cornjerkers (15-4-1) outpaced the fifth-seeded Blue Devils (15-3-1) by a 3-2 margin in penalty kicks, creating the minimum amount of separation for Hoopeston to advance.

After the Vermilion Valley Conference enemies split their regular-season bouts — BHRA succeeded 4-1 just six days prior while Hoopeston won 3-2 on Sept. 18 — they played a back-and-forth postseason affair on Wednesday.

With the game tied at 3 entering the first of two overtimes, Elijah Tidwell put the Blue Devils ahead before the Cornjerkers' Cameron Flint returned the favor in the second extra session to force penalty kicks.

Tidwell also scored in regulation for BHRA and Cameron Douglas and Drew Reifsteck accounted for the Blue Devils' other goals.Rhys Root scored twice in regulation for Hoopeston, including one on a penalty kick, while Lucas Hofer also tallied for the Cornjerkers.

Now, Hoopeston will take on No. 2 Uni High (14-5-3) for the regional crown at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Class 1A Bloomington Cornerstone Regional semifinal

Monticello 2, Bloomington Central Catholic 1. Luke Rudolph tallied the tiebreaking goal after 15 minutes had expired in the second half as the fifth-seeded Sages pulled an upset on the third-seeded Saints in a postseason bout between Illini Prairie Conference foes.

Sam Haugen also scored for Monticello (9-10-1). Monticello rallied from a 1-0 deficit against a BCC squad that won the teams' previous match 6-1 on Sept. 18.

The win qualified Monticello for Friday's 4:30 p.m. regional championship match with host and No. 2 seed Cornerstone Christian (18-2-1).

Class 1A Herscher Regional semifinal

Iroquois West 5, Coal City 1. The fifth-seeded Raiders (15-5) thumped their fifth-seeded foe to garner a championship match berth behind four goals from Diego Camarena and another tally from Lucas Alvarez.

Iroquois West will face host and top seed Herscher (19-6) Friday at 4 p.m. for a chance to move on to sectionals.