Illineks, Tribe reach regional soccer final
CHAMPAIGN — The Urbana Uni High boys’ soccer team showed why it’s a top seed in its own Class 1A regional.
The Illineks had no trouble handing fifth-seeded Fisher/Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley an 8-1 loss in a regional semifinal match Tuesday at the University of Illinois’ West Turf Field.
While Uni High (17-2-1) showed crisp passing and deft play-making abilities to overwhelm the Bunnies (3-13-5), the Illineks were well aware of what was going on at the UI’s East Turf Field at the same time.
“There’s an upset in the making over there,” Uni High junior midfielder Randall Hornbaker said, nodding to the regional semifinal match between No. 2 St. Thomas More and No. 3 Judah Christian.
Hornbaker was spot on.
Judah Christian stunned the Sabers 1-0 to set up a 4 p.m. regional championship match Friday at the UI West Turf Field between the two East Central Illinois Conference rivals.
“It helps our conference, but you’ve still got to go out and play,” Hornbaker said. “Anything can happen.”
Uni High received goals from five different players in Tuesday’s win.
Hornbaker, senior midfielder George Voulgaris and junior midfielder Peter Ivanov each scored two goals. Voulgaris and Hornbaker added assists, and senior midfielder Tarik Koric and senior midfielder Andrew Lumetta also tallied goals. Koric added two assists and helped dictate the pace of the match.
“You’ve got nerves because it’s the playoffs and it could be your last game, but we’re keeping strong,” Koric said of the Illineks, who are trying to make a run similar to last year’s team that won a sectional championship before losing to Warrensburg-Latham in a super-sectional match. “We want to do better. The goal all year has been state and see what we can do when we get there. We’ve just got to keep working.”
Uni High led 7-0 at halftime, scoring four goals in the final 10 minutes of the first half to break the match open.
Fisher/GCMS scored its lone goal off a free kick by junior midfielder Andrew Young with less than two minutes left.
“It’s just challenging in the way (Uni) makes their runs,” Fisher/GCMS coach Levi Horsch said. “There’s always a purpose with their pass. You know what they’re going to do. It’s just a matter of preventing it from happening. They can go pretty far. They’re a pretty good team with experience.”
The second half only lasted 20 minutes because of the Bunnies’ seven-goal deficit, giving the Illineks plenty of time to take in the end of the St. Thomas More-Judah match.
“In some ways, we have a target more than we did last year,” Uni High coach Phil Anders said. “We’ve done very well for a number of years now, but after a season like last year, everybody knows you’re coming now. We’re a little thinner than we were last year, but half of the team is older, too. Last year, in the game we lost to Warrensburg-Latham, we showed our age. I told a number of people that our 16-year-olds got beat by a bunch of 18-year-olds. That was tricky. This year, we’ve got the upper hand in that.”
Judah Christian 1, St. Thomas More 0. Judah Christian players stormed the field in celebration.
STM players dropped to the turf in despair.
Thanks to a first-half goal on a penalty kick by freshman Joshua Zuckermann, the Tribe (10-7-2) held on for the nerve-racking victory.
“I was just thinking that I needed to do what I needed to do to just put it in the back of the net and keep my cool,” Zuckermann said of his goal which came with about 18 minutes left before halftime. “It was very exciting. It was probably one of the most exciting moments of my soccer career. Being a freshman and being able to win the game for my team meant a lot to me.”
The Tribe marked STM senior forward Daniel Shin — the area’s leading goal scorer with 33 — nearly the entire match, and Judah Christian coach Bo Wilson said freshman keeper Cameron Cornell played “one of the best games I’ve ever seen a goalie have.”
“He’s the biggest guy on our team, so he’s got to get out there and punch the ball out and take care of corners,” Wilson said. “We knew coming in if we could just settle down and play soccer that was going to be key. We did that for portions there. For portions there, we just hung on for dear life.”
The Sabers (19-4) outshot Judah Christian 12-0 in the first half and had at least three shots hit off the post or crossbar.
“Even when they scored on us, I wasn’t concerned at first,” St. Thomas More coach James Johnson said. “As the game wore on and we ... missed opportunities that we normally score on, you kind of got the sense that it just wasn’t our day. This group of seniors is really special to me. I came in last year, and they just changed the program around. My heart breaks for them. At the same time, I have to give credit to Judah. They had a good game plan. They executed well. We didn’t.”
Blue Ridge 6, Heyworth 0. Travis Nichols recorded a hat trick, Jon Jones scored twice and Dylan Grammer added the other goal to power the Knights to the Class 1A regional final at Bloomington Central Catholic.
St. Joseph-Ogden 7, Georgetown-Ridge Farm 0. Austin Baker scored four goals, Colin Seward added two and Jamie Carley added one for the Spartans, who advanced to the 1A final at Schlarman.
Monticello 8, Decatur Lutheran 0. Luke Hanselman registered a hat trick and Ryan Rodgers scored twice to power the Sages to their own regional final.