CRYSTAL LAKE – Based on how the tightly contested Class 3A Crystal Lake South Boys Soccer Regional had played out to that point, McHenry and the host Gators knew goals would be at a premium.
It came as no surprise then when regulation and overtime came and went in Saturdays' regional final with neither team managing to score. Facing off in penalty kicks, top-seeded McHenry outlasted No. 3 South to win, 1-0, for its first regional title since 2007. The Warriors (12-8-3), which won the penalty kicks, 3-1, play DeKalb in the Huntley Sectional semifinal Wednesday.
"We practiced [penalty kicks] and we knew what we had to do," McHenry defender Evan Hying said. "We play McHenry style, which is high pressure, high energy, so [coach] just told us to keep going at it."
Hying converted McHenry's first attempt after South's first penalty kick was off target, giving the Warriors the early advantage. South tied it on Jake Canfield's conversion, but after a McHenry miss, senior goalkeeper Frankie Valle stopped South's ensuing attempt. The Warriors' Mike Lawrence and Ryan Uhl made McHenry's next two kicks to secure the win. Valle finished with four saves, including one during penalty kicks.
"Just don't get overwhelmed, stay calm and hope that I can put it in and do this for my team so we can move on," Uhl said of his thoughts before his penalty kick. "We just needed to want it more. We came out and had a good game."
The Gators (9-12-3) did a good job of limiting the Warriors' opportunities during regulation. McHenry didn't record a shot on goal until there were 50 seconds remaining in regulation. South goalkeeper Gus Alvarez (three saves) turned away the shot to keep the match scoreless.
"We knew it was a dead-even [regional]," McHenry coach Tony Caruso said. "Every team could have been any of the seeds, so we knew it was going to be a dogfight. We needed it to be a low-scoring game, and it was."
The match didn't end as the Gators had hoped, but South coach Brian Allen was pleased with how his team performed. Although the Gators will lose eight seniors, the success they found in the playoffs should help set a foundation for success next season.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more," Allen said. "Literally, I think guys could not walk and were fighting with everything they had, going into their second or third tank they probably didn't know existed. Hopefully, they realized after Wednesday's comeback and today's they've got everything to be proud of."