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As Evanston head soccer coach Franz Calixte reminded his players just before the start of Senior Night ceremonies Oct. 7 at Lazier Field, staying in the moment was the most important thing.
Well, maybe next to completing the entire home portion of the 2021 schedule without a loss. The Wildkits did just that Thursday, smacking Highland Park 6-0 in their final regular season tuneup for the Illinois High School Association Class 3A State playoffs.
“They did a great job this year of defending their home turf,” Calixte said after the Wildkits moved to 12-1-4 on the year. Only a tie with Glenbrook South Sept. 14 prevented ETHS from compiling a perfect home record.
“Tonight was their last time in uniform on this field [for 22 seniors on the roster], and I know this means a lot to them. We always want to protect this house. Unfortunately we won’t have another opportunity to play on the best field in the State. But they went out with a bang.”
Evanston erupted for five goals in the second half, two of them coming off the foot of senior Adam Hammock. Sebastian Leon and Nico Combopiano each contributed a goal and an assist for the Wildkits, who are apparently peaking at the right time with the one-loss-and-done portion of the schedule right around the corner.
Evanston owns the No. 1 seed for the New Trier Sectional tournament complex and will open regional play Tuesday, Oct.12 at Leyden. The Kits are slated to meet either Maine East or Von Steuben in a 4 p.m. matchup there, with the regional title game scheduled for Oct. 22, also at 4 p.m.
New Trier, Oak Park-River Forest and Loyola Academy are also seeded in the top four. The sectional is at New Trier on Oct. 26 and Oct. 30.
Calixte’s teams have been seeded No. 1 in sectionals more times than the veteran coach could count. But he said that ranking has special significance this year even as he knows his team’s path to postseason success won’t be an easy one.
“I really appreciate the fact that we got that No. 1 seed the day after we lost [to Glenbrook North],” Calixte pointed out. “That says to me just how much other people respect the Evanston program. We didn’t slip down [in the seedings] even though we lost. That really makes me feel good about the respect there is for this program.
“We were really sharp tonight. These kids have learned to respect the game and not play ‘down’ a level when the opponent isn’t at their level. They still played and did what they were supposed to do.”
Calixte made sure that every senior on the squad played a role on Senior Night, using a mass substitution policy like he did in a recent trip to Iowa. In that tournament, he held several starters with nagging injuries completely out of the action, so they could heal up in time for the postseason push.
Thursday he sent 10 new players into the game at the midway point of both the first and second halves.
Evanston’s only first-half goal came on a free kick by Leon, after two earlier goals had been wiped out by referee whistles. But the Kits broke loose soon after the intermission, led by the red-hot Hammock.
The senior wing, who racked up five assists and two goals in three games in Iowa last weekend, kept up that torrid pace Thursday night. He scored in the 53rd minute with a rocket shot that handcuffed the Highland Park goalie, and four minutes later his left-footed attempt also found the back of the net.
Combopiano, just off the injured list, banged in a rebound of a shot by Diego Velasquez, then set up another ETHS tally, this one by Sam Darer. Will Travis added the sixth goal in the 61st minute.