Tribe's run ends at sectionals; Bulldogs falter in regional final

Tribe's run ends at sectionals; Bulldogs falter in regional final

CHAMPAIGN — Clear-cut signs indicated Saturday's Class 1A Judah Christian Sectional championship match would not be a typical boys' soccer bout.

The Field of Dreams' north field goal post bending unnaturally amid a howling wind. A second-half corner kick sailing 40 yards away from the goal to which it was directed.

And a St. Teresa offense that had averaged 5.5 goals per game tallying just one.

But that lone marker was enough to end Judah Christian's storybook playoff run on its own turf.

Luichi Caceres hit Edgar Onate on a goal-line cross midway through the second half, and Onate beat surprised goaltender Griffin Fazio to lift the Bulldogs past the host Tribe 1-0 in the first-ever sectional final for both programs.

Judah (12-8-2) was surprised in that moment because its athletes believed there was a foul committed by Caceres in the box.

The momentary lapse allowed Caceres to slip around a defender and hit Onate for the decisive conversion.

"It's high school soccer. Things happen," Tribe coach Josh Birky said. "Our boys followed the game plan 100 percent, even when it was frustrating for them."

Judah had little luck creating offensive chances, opting to focus on the back end and prohibit St. Teresa (21-2-3) from piling up bids.

That strategy was effective — outside of a single instance.

"We did it against Cornerstone (in the sectional semifinal), so we're kind of used to it," Tribe junior Caleb Aldridge said. "They had the same skill set as Cornerstone, three in the middle controlling, so we kind of knew what to do against them."

St. Teresa coach Davis Wegmann came away impressed by Judah's alignment.

"Very organized and structured defensively. Very hard to break down," he said. "Whatever strategy you have to use, you just try to execute it to a T."

For St. Teresa, that meant feeding Caceres in the midfield and letting him create chances. The senior boasted a hat trick versus Uni High three days earlier, but he was briefly benched by Wegmann on Saturday for not keeping things simple.

That quick lecture gave the Bulldogs a golden opportunity during the first 40 minutes.

Caceres drove hard toward the box and was tackled by Judah junior Joe Linsner for a penalty shot. Christian Herrera accepted the try, but Fazio performed a lunging stop to his left.

"He's come up so huge the last six or seven games," Birky said of Fazio. "That was kind of pinnacle of it. Not just the save, but to not have it bounce, just have it stick in the gloves on a hard hit, was really amazing."

Judah couldn't build any momentum from the thrilling play, and it quickly became evident something odd might need to happen for either side to overcome not only the other team, but also wind gusts exceeding 30 mph.

Enter the Bulldogs playing through a non-foul and making it count.

"I told (Caceres), 'Play the ball to the middle, we'll have guys there,'" Wegmann said. "Fortunately, (Onate) was running right onto the ball, perfect timing, and it couldn't have been any better."

Even with Saturday's disappointment, the Tribe campaign offered plenty of positive vibes for the future.

Only Fazio and fellow seniors Micah Mills and Benji Rebeiz will depart, leaving a strong core that watched numerous freshmen and sophomores chip in during Judah's longest-ever postseason stint.

"It's been a great season, even though we started out rough," Aldridge said. "I think we'll be even better next year, and hopefully we'll go all the way."

Bulldogs falter. Mahomet-Seymour enjoyed a lead in the second half against Mattoon on Saturday during a windy Class 2A Centennial Regional championship match.

The third-seeded Bulldogs just couldn't hang on to the advantage, suffering a 2-1 season-ending loss to the second-seeded Green Wave. It was the third straight season Mattoon (21-1-3) beat M-S (15-4-5) in a regional final match, but first time the Green Wave defeated the Bulldogs this season. The two Apollo Conference rivals had tied 3-3 in each of their previous two matches.

"I'm upset at the result, but I'm pretty happy with how we played," M-S coach Jeremy Davis said. "I thought it was two balanced teams going at one another."

Jake Janda scored the lone goal for M-S to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead with about 30 minutes left in the match. Mattoon quickly answered, though, 10 minutes later to tie the match 1 and then went ahead for good by scoring on a penalty kick.

"I don't know if that was a foul or it wasn't," Davis said. "I could see it going either way."

M-S will lose a deep senior class, with Austin Carr, Corey Cebulski, Graham Kessler, Marc Majeres, Ethan Mansfield, Alec Marsh, Joah Moore, Grant Odle, Carter Osman and Jacob Peterson all playing their last match with the Bulldogs on Saturday.

"A lot of the guys this year did what they complained about doing last year and put in the work during the offseason," Davis said. "Did they always enjoy it? No, but the offseason is when you make up ground. We'll continue to do that to make sure we come into next season well-prepared."