SPRINGFIELD — Urbana clinched its first trip to a boys’ soccer Final Four on Tuesday night.
But the Tigers had an inkling big things were in store for their program six days earlier in a Class 2A sectional semifinal.
“When we beat (Normal) U-High, it was almost like an out-of-body experience for a lot of us,” Urbana senior Joey Lund said. “We played perfect. We knew we could go far.”
Since its 5-1 shellacking of the highly touted Pioneers, Urbana has played flawless soccer. The Tigers avenged an early-season loss by beating Springfield 1-0 to win the sectional. On Tuesday, they dumped Marion 2-0 to clinch a spot in this weekend’s Class 2A state in Frankfort. The Tigers will meet Arlington Heights St. Viator in Friday’s 1 p.m. semifinal at Lincoln-Way North.
“It’s an amazing feeling. It’s a dream come true,” senior captain Miguel Fierro said. “We’re doing it for the school, for the community, for the coach.”
That’d be Randy Blackman, Final Four-bound for the first time in his 27 ultra-productive seasons. Of his many highlights — three sectional titles, an ongoing Big 12 run of three consecutive championships (and five in the last eight years), more All-Area players than he can remember, 350 wins — reaching the trophy round has meaning.
“It’s up there,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of really good teams.”
And a lot of support.
Tuesday’s crowd included about 20 former players — and a handful of parents of former players.
“That makes me feel good,” Blackman said. “We’ve got a lot of support for soccer in Urbana. As a community, we should be happy that Urbana and Uni High are going to state — that’s really a wonderful thing.”
The Illineks finished second at last weekend’s Class 1A Final Four. Their coach, Phil Anders, was there to congratulate Blackman on Tuesday.
“We rooted on Uni High and wanted them to win the whole thing,” Blackman said. “They came up short, but now they’re rooting for us.”
As they did in their first four playoff wins, the Tigers combined timely scoring and a suffocating defense to do in Marion.
Fierro scored the only goal they’d need early in the second half.
“I thought 1-0 would be safe with the way we’ve been playing,” Fierro said.
For insurance, Lund made it 2-0. That was more than enough for senior keeper Brian Summers, who hasn’t been scored on since the regional opener.
“Hugs all around” is how Lund described the postmatch celebration. “One of the things I’ve learned in four years is you’ll never go farther than you think you can go. And we all think we can win state.”
This much is certain: Urbana will be well-rested.
Fierro said the team’s veterans have been making sure the Tigers are eating right and getting plenty of sleep despite the commotion caused by an unprecedented march to state. How can he tell?
“Everybody looked awake tonight,” he said.
Meeting curfew Tuesday might have been difficult judging by the lively bus ride home.
Still, neither captain nor coach seemed worried the Tigers would lose their focus.
“It’s been a great season. You can’t take that away,” Blackman said. “But we have a goal of winning state and we’re still two games away. And it’s going to get tougher.”