Notre Dame keeper comes up big in PKs as Irish advance to 2A title match
By BO RYAN
Peoria Journal Star
FRANKFORT – Never a doubt. Well, not exactly.
Notre Dame advanced to the Class 2A state soccer title match with a fingernail-biting, penalty-kick victory Friday over West Chicago Wheaton Academy at Lincoln-Way North High School.
The Irish won 3-1 in PKs after 80 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtimes. Each team scored a one goal in 100 minutes of timed play.
“This point of the season, you take (a victory) any way you can get it,” Notre Dame coach Mike Bare said. “I don’t know if we played to our ability, but (Wheaton Academy) is a nice team, big and physical. They kind of took us out of our style of play.”
Notre Dame (21-2-2) will play Urbana (21-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the state championship match. Urbana defeated Arlington Heights St. Viator 2-1 in the second 2A semifinal.
“That’s the goal every year, to play for a state championship,” Bare said. “But I’ll tell you, Justin Buck saving three penalties. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a penalty shootout like that, where the first four balls are saved. Incredible.”
Buck and Wheaton Academy’s Spencer Graf rejected shots all day. Graf was credited with 11 saves and Buck eight, but understandably none were bigger than the penalty kicks.
“We practice PKs in practice all the time,” Buck said. “Today, I just wanted to keep my mind clear and try to pick up any movements to which way (the attacker) is going. It’s just you and the kicker out there.”
Graf started the PK session by stopping ND leadoff kicker Alex Garcia.
“You always want to go first,” Bare said about penalty-kick endings. “You want to get that first one in the net, just to relieve those nerves a little bit. You miss and it, unfortunately, puts more pressure on your goalkeeper.”
Buck didn’t flinch and followed Garcia’s miss by turning back Wheaton Academy’s Grant Stoneman.
Graf kept Ben Fiddes’ attempt out of the net. Buck then stopped the Warriors’ Casey Zimmerman.
Nick Finerty finally got a shot by Graf and Wheaton Academy’s Andrew Luetkehans scored on Buck.
Tommy Frampton converted ND’s second PK from the fourth position and Buck, with a dive to his right, stopped Zeb Lewis.
“Three saves in a PK situation is pretty much unheard of,” Bare said. “And Justin, he was supposed to be our backup this season. We lost a goalkeeper to the Academy system and Justin stepped in, and it is a credit to him on the type of season he had.”
ND’s Drew Whalen scored from the fifth position to send the Irish to the title match for the fourth time in five years.
“That was a dream come true,” Whalen said. “Going up there, I didn’t have any nerves in my stomach … I’ve been thinking about something like this since I was a little kid. I just stare at the keeper the whole time, and whichever he goes I go the opposite.”
Notre Dame started sluggishly. The Irish dodged a bullet when Wheaton Academy’s goal 1:18 into the match was nullified on an offsides call.
“The first half we went against the wind. We picked that,” Bare said. “I didn’t think it would effect us as much as it did.
“The first 15 minutes we were defending our half of the field, but we held them out and went to halftime nil-nil.”
Whalen gave Notre Dame a 1-0 lead with his unassisted goal at 50:31. Wheaton Academy tied the match on Casey Zimmerman’s score at 72:07.
“We got the score, and I thought we had the game under control,” Bare said. “Unfortunately, we had a few bobbles and (Wheaton Academy’s shot) got over our goalkeeper’s head.”
Urbana and Notre Dame did not play each other this season, but did have a common opponent in Normal Community. ND defeated the Ironmen 6-2 in its season-opener while Urbana had a midseason 4-1 victory.
“St. Viator is more defensive-minded and would have packed it in,” Bare said. “Urbana is more offense first.”