HOFFMAN ESTATES – After a superb defensive effort in the second half to keep a desperate Troy Triad team off the scoreboard, Crystal Lake South players mobbed each other in front of the student section – green and gold Gators flag flying high in the front row.
The Gators and their fans knew what to do. They’ve been here before.
After a 2-0 win over Triad in the state semifinal, South will try to make it back-to-back IHSA Class 2A state championships at 1 p.m. Saturday against Benet at Hoffman Estates High School. Benet (19-1-2) defeated St. Laurence, 2-0, in Friday's second semifinal.
Last year’s team was a senior-heavy group that carried a South program – which had never won a sectional – to the mountaintop. Given that eight starters graduated last year, the Gators' return to the championship game is just as remarkable.
“It says a lot about the depth that we had last year and people stepping into new roles and kind of taking one for the team,” senior defender Evan Carlson said. “Whatever we needed, people stepped in and did what’s best for the team, not for themselves.”
Senior forward Alex Canfield scored twice in the first half Friday, once in the 34th minute and again in the 38th. His first goal was assisted by Colton Weidner.
On the second goal, Canfield simply blew past two defenders.
“If you constantly put pressure on them, they’re going to get scared, they’re going to get nervous, they’re not going to know what to do,” Canfield said. “After I poked it out from the first defender, that second defender felt he had to fill the gap, so he stepped in and I was able to get a touch around him and put it away.”
The Gators (20-4-4) hunkered down behind their defense in the second half and held on for the shutout. Goalkeeper Carson Hill made five saves.
It was a similar recipe to last year: Play rock-solid defense and do whatever it takes to get the ball to Canfield in space.
“Kid got loose a couple times and finished,” Triad coach Jim Jackson said. “That’s why he’s an All-State player and he’s got 30-something goals on the season.”
Canfield raised his season total to 34 goals.
Triad (22-3-3) was playing in the state semifinals for the second time in program history and first time since 2009. The Knights had an early goal off a throw-in waved off because of a foul. Hill made a nice save shortly after that, and the momentum began to shift in South’s favor.
“It was kind of a wake-up call,” Carlson said of the waved off goal. “We got maybe a little lucky there. I think we used it to wake up, realize we had to play a little harder.”
Carlson was the only starting defender who returned from last year’s team. South coach Brian Allen credited the seniors with keeping the level of commitment high.
“We had a lot more growth we had to obtain this year to get back to this point, but they stayed the course; they never got deterred,” Allen said.
STAR OF THE GAME
Crystal Lake South, sr., F
South leaned on its leading scorer again, and Canfield came through twice, scoring both goals in the first half.
2: South will try to win its second consecutive Class 2A state title in the championship game against Benet at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hoffman Estates.
AND ANOTHER THING …
South could become the first McHenry County boys soccer program to win back-to-back state titles. Prairie Ridge came close, finishing as Class A runner-up in 1998 and state champion in 1999.
Crystal Lake South 2, Triad 0
CLS 2 0 – 2
Triad 0 0 – 0
CLS – Canfield (Weidner assist), 34th minute.
CLS – Canfield, 38th minute.
Goalkeeper saves – Triad: DuPont 3. Crystal Lake South: Hill 5.