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The bar for success for the Evanston boys soccer program is set so high that the expectation is that the Wildkits will always make a deep postseason playoff run.
So winning a regional tournament championship isn’t always a big deal. But it’s also not something the Wildkits take for granted, if you ask senior defender Josh Klier.
Klier and the Wildkits built a 3-1 halftime advantage, then squeezed past Loyola Academy for a 3-2 win in the title game of the Class 3A Evanston Regional tournament at Lazier Field Saturday night. The victory marks the 5th straight regional championship for the program and sends the Kits to a sectional tournament matchup with rival New Trier next Wednesday at Maine East at 7 p.m.
ETHS turned in an uneven performance while improving to 16-1-4 as the No. 3 sectional seed. Loyola exited with a 16-5-1 record.
Goals by Wes Harrell, Miguel Jimenez and Chloise Nkurunziza kept the Wildkit season alive — and that’s really the point in the postseason.
“I think it’s a big thing to win a regional,” said senior co-captain Klier. “I’d have been happy if someone had told me back in August we could do this, with only four returners back. I don’t want to say I’m surprised because we have one of the best coaching staffs in the state. And if you had told anyone coming into the season last year that we’d win the sectional, they probably wouldn’t have believed that, either.
“There’s a whole new mindset when you get to the playoffs as a senior. I was part of it last year (when the Wildkits reached the super-sectional), but it’s a completely different experience for a senior. You realize it could be the last competitive soccer game you ever play. There’s a whole new level of adrenaline and anxiety, and you have to stay composed no matter what the other team does.
“Tonight was a really good test for us because Loyola played really well.”
“It was a hard-fought game and we’re happy with the result. We’ll take it,” added ETHS head coach Franz Calixte. “These are always hard games because they’re the ones you expect to win, and there’s more stress when that happens. Loyola’s a very tough team. We’re still alive, and that’s what counts.”
Typical of Evanston’s uneven performance was goalie Gavin Rosengarten. The senior stopped two Loyola attempts off of corner kicks, then surrendered a “soft” goal by Julian Hilpusch in the first two minutes of the second half to keep the outcome in doubt until the final whistle.
Hilpusch barely touched the ball with his head on a restart from near midfield by Matt Salter, but the ETHS keeper appeared to overrun the play.
Rosengarten did finish with 7 saves for the winners and , as has been typical of his season as the team’s stopper, came up big when the score was close.
Evanston was tied 1-1 with the Ramblers when Rosengarten, on his knees, somehow smothered a shot from Sean Hickey after a corner kick midway through the first half.
Then, with the hosts leading 2-1 12 minutes later, he foiled a shot by Loyola’s Ford Peterson from point blank range.