BLOOMINGTON — The St. Thomas More boys' soccer team's defense was unbreakable for nearly 70 minutes and senior Joe Sellett controlled the rest of the action with two first-half goals in the Sabers' 4-1 win against Monticello in Tuesday's Class 1A Normal U-High Sectional semifinal match.
Sellett sent a hooking shot off his left foot from near midfield over the leaping Sages keeper Rye Johnson to open scoring in the 11th minute.
A standout senior who missed a majority of the regular season with injury, Sellett then found the back of the net on a pass sent back into the middle of the box from JP Hoffman nine minutes later to give STM an early 2-0 lead
"He's coming back at the right time and he's hitting his stride again," Sabers coach James Johnson said of Sellett. "He's just a quality player and we're lucky to have somebody with that amount of talent on our team."
The two-goal margin seemed extra-wide as the STM defense clamped down on Monticello's midfield and turned back any long attack off the pass.
Brothers George and Alex Comet started on the back defensive line for the Sabers (20-2-3) and limited the Sages (20-3-1) to just a handful of opportunities in the first 40 minutes.
"I talk to them about how I played with my brother in high school and it's kind of a special feeling," Johnson said. "You got blood on the field and you kind of think the same way. I think that chemistry really helps our back line, both in this game and the entire season."
Monticello was able to generate more scoring chances following halftime as coach Dan Burkybile implemented a strategy the Sages have used in past games by moving senior Andrew Ellison from defense up into the attacking zone.
"We tried to man-mark Sellett and (J.P.) Hoffman in the first half," Burkybile said. "We were going a little bit against the wind, so we were moreso playing to keep the score low that first half and then take it to the second half and get more aggressive. It didn't work out that way. We had to come out super aggressive."
STM freshman Martin Mondala took advantage of the Sages' aggression, scoring on a counter just two minutes into the second half on a pass from Sellet.
"Nothing to lose at that point," Burkybile said.
Monticello did break through with a goal from Dylan Ginalick off a pass from Sam Haugen to make it 3-1 with 13 minutes remaining, giving the team flashbacks of its comeback win from a three-goal deficit in the regional semifinal.
But Hoffman netted the final goal with two minutes left to end the Sages' season and push STM into Saturday's 3 p.m. sectional final against either Normal U-High (17-5) or Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin (20-0). Those two teams meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday in a sectional semifinal match.
"I have a lot of respect for Monticello and Coach Dan," Johnson said. "They're a very disciplined team."