WOODSTOCK – The Crystal Lake Central boys soccer team didn't show a hint of intimidation Wednesday against Marian Central.
Three days before the one-and-done portion of its season in the Class 2A playoffs begin, the Tigers came out aggressive and played like they had nothing to lose in their nonconference match against the Hurricanes, which ended in a 2-2 tie.
"In the first half, we played well and got a few shots on goal," Tigers coach Jose Arias said. "In the second half, [Marian] possessed the ball more. We couldn't find the net in the second half."
Taking the lead less than three minutes into the match on a goal by senior midfielder Danilo Costa gave Central confidence it could hold its own against the Hurricanes. Marian, however, didn't back down with a one-goal deficit. Junior forward Connor Hull tied the score with 16:57 remaining in the first half on a great individual play. Hull dribbled the ball 50 yards down the right sideline, cut back near the box and fired a shot with his left foot into the net.
But the Tigers responded five minutes before the half. Sophomore midfielder Michael Chen scored on a free kick right outside the box, curling the ball around the wall of Hurricanes for a 2-1 lead. Marian sophomore midfielder Bryan Hart tied the score less than two minutes into the second half.
"It's just hours of practice on my own," Chen said of his success on free kicks. "You've just got to be confident when you take one."
Marian coach Jim Colvin said the Hurricanes didn't change their strategy against Central despite a potential rematch looming, instead wanting to make sure every player had an opportunity to play.
When the Hurricanes take the field Tuesday for their regional semifinal game, they will be well acquainted with their opponent. No. 1-seeded Marian will play the winner of Saturday's quarterfinal game between No. 4 Central and No. 5 Prairie Ridge. The Wolves beat the Hurricanes, 4-3, on Saturday.
"I think, based on our last two results, I think other teams are thinking they can win the regional," Colvin said. "But we think we can."
Although the Hurricanes (10-5-1 overall) enter the playoffs on a three-game winless streak, they expect to be refocused regardless of who they play Tuesday.
"Our attitudes weren't always there," Hull said. "We were looking for a win, but we weren't all mentally ready for that game. That's one thing we need to prepare ourselves for."
Central (9-11-1) understands it can't overlook Prairie Ridge and assume the Tigers will be again playing the Hurricanes in less than a week. The Wolves beat Central, 2-1, on the road in September.
"It lets us know what our potential is," Chen said. "I think we definitely have a chance [against Prairie Ridge], and then when we see these guys again, we know what they're made of."