BELVIDERE – His team down by a goal at halftime, Crystal Lake South boys soccer coach Brian Allen pressed the Gators to stick with every play despite worsening conditions on a field with large muddy patches and increasing snow.
"Early on, we started a little apprehensive with the conditions," Allen said. "We didn't finish as much as we should have. We talked about that at half. Never give up on a ball; it might die in the mud. You don't really know."
The second-seeded Gators started to finish more plays, leading to more chances in a 2-1 victory against top-seeded Boylan on Friday in the Class 2A Belvidere Sectional final.
Junior Brandon Osterberg finally broke through with the Gators' first goal with 27 minutes left on a scrum in front of the net.
The score remained tied until South sophomore midfielder Sam Bahnfleth tracked down a ball that died right at the sideline and crossed it into the box with multiple Gators there. Another sophomore, Tom Coughlin, was first to the ball.
"When I saw the ball slow down, I knew Sam was going to get there, and I knew I needed to finish my run," Coughlin said. "I saw him play a beautiful ball across. All the drills every day ... it was just one of those things I knew I had to put it in."
Coughlin gathered the ball as it came to a stop in the box and fired it past Boylan goalkeeper Alyas Fritz for the Gators' first lead with 4:19 remaining. South's defense made Coughlin's score hold up, and the Gators celebrated their victory over the Titans.
South will play Niles Notre Dame in the Grayslake Central Supersectional at 6 p.m Tuesday. A victory would put the Gators (18-4-4) back in the state tournament semifinals after winning their first state title last year.
Friday's sectional title was only the second in program history.
"They truly believed that it was just a matter of time before we got one," Allen said. "In conditions like this, it's a field-position battle, and we started to move that in our favor. Credit Tom there in the end, being composed and putting it on frame. Good things happen when you do that in these conditions."
Boylan (14-6-4), which had not allowed a goal in its first three postseason games, looked as if it was going to add another shutout before Osterberg's goal. Evan Carlson made a long throw-in from the sideline, and the ball bounced around in the box before Osterberg saw the ball come to him.
"It was chaotic," Osterberg said. "I saw the ball come across the box, and the ball came right to me. Alex [Canfield] flicked it over, it came to my foot, and I put it in the back of the net. It was unbelievable."
Gators goalkeeper Carson Hill made six saves. Forward Jack Bonavia scored off a corner kick header for Boylan's only goal in the 11th minute, assisted by Taylor Sowell. Fritz made six saves for the Titans.
Coughlin had little doubt the Gators would come back and win.
"We never back down," Coughlin said. "We pride ourselves on being the hardest-working team in the [Fox Valley Conference]. It's just hard work. We just had to pull it off."
STAR OF THE MATCH
Crystal Lake South, so., M
Coughlin buried the game-winning goal with 4:19 remaining to send the Gators into Tuesday's Grayslake Central Supersectional.
2: The Gators won their second straight sectional title and second in program history.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
Boylan had not allowed a goal in its first three postseason games.