WOODSTOCK – The Marian Central soccer coaches knew junior forward Liam Gries could take on a larger role offensively.
Gries believed he was ready for the challenge and chose a great time to rise to the moment. He scored twice during the first half of the Hurricanes’ Class 2A Marian Central Regional semifinal match Tuesday to lead the No. 1-seeded Hurricanes to a 3-1 win against No. 5 Prairie Ridge.
The Hurricanes (11-5-1) advance to Friday’s regional final, where they will play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between No. 2 Woodstock and No. 3 Woodstock North. Marian is vying for its first regional title since 2009.
“Honestly, I think it all came down to how we’ve played together,” Gries said. “We’ve grown a lot during the season. I think it just comes from your teammates. You depend on them and they depend on you. It worked out.”
Gries, off a feed from junior forward Connor Hull, gave Marian a 1-0 lead five minutes into the game. The Hurricanes didn’t sit on their lead, taking a 2-0 lead at the 26:51 mark of the first half on a goal by junior midfielder Patrick Majzner. Then, on a give-and-go from sophomore midfielder Bryan Hart with 13:49 remaining until halftime, Gries connected for his second goal as Marian claimed a 3-0 lead.
“He just decided to turn it on today,” Marian coach Jim Colvin said of Gries. “We put him in the right place. I think we did a good job of scouting the game, and we put him the right places so he could score.”
The three-goal deficit posed a difficult challenge for the Wolves (6-11-2), who have struggled to score at times this season. Prairie Ridge scored an important goal by junior forward Josh Reichert less than four minutes before the half to give the Wolves a chance at a second-half comeback.
At halftime, Wolves coach J.C. Brown talked to his team about not giving up, and they responded with increased pressure leading to multiple scoring chances. Midway through the second half, Prairie Ridge had multiple opportunities off set pieces, but they couldn’t manage to find the back of the net.
“In the playoffs, it’s all about who wants it more,” Brown said. “Their strategy worked out for them. They played hard on our center-midfielders which is our strength. ... They wanted it a little more and executed their game plan.”
Brown was also forced to shuffle his lineup because of the absence of starting goalkeeper Brian Farstead. Farstead suffered a broken cheek bone and orbital bone during the Wolves’ quarterfinal win Saturday against Crystal Lake Central. The injury occurred when Farstead went to grab the ball in the box and collided with a Tigers player. Despite the loss, Brown is optimistic for the future.
“We had a good run toward the end of the season, putting a lot of goals in the back of the net,” Brown said. “We got some wins that we shouldn’t have won some of those games, but we found a way to win them. A positive learning experience.”