By JOSH WESSLER
Peoria Journal Star
FRANKFORT – With the Class 2A state championship trophy no longer available, Notre Dame had to settle for a smaller model Saturday.
But in order to settle, the Irish had to fight.
Facing an equally hungry Aurora Marmion side in the 2A third-place match at Lincoln Way-North High School in Frankfort, Notre Dame turned in a stellar defensive effort before edging the Cadets, 4-2 in penalty kicks, to claim the program’s third third-place trophy in 12 trips to the state tournament.
“We said that 10 years down the road, you’re gonna remember whether you got third or fourth,” ND coach Mike Bare said. “It’s nice to go out in your last game with a win.”
While the Irish (21-6-0) ultimately fell short in their quest for a second-straight state title, the victory did provide them some consolation as it allowed the team’s five seniors to end their prep careers on a high note.
And fittingly, it was a senior who sealed the victory for the Irish. With ND leading 3-2 in the shootout and one round left to go, senior defender Brad Lazzari stepped up to the spot, took a deep breath and did what comes naturally.
“I knew if I scored we won and if I missed it would go on,” Lazzari said. “So I just went up, relaxed, tried to put it out of my mind and just thought about where I was going to place it.”
With every set of eyes in the stadium focused on Lazzari, the senior struck a low ball that buzzed past Marmion goalkeeper Brad White and into the back corner of the net for the decisive goal.
“I got the job done,” Lazzari said. “I put it exactly where I wanted it.”
While Lazzari’s heroics capped what was a tightly-contested consolation game, his moment in the sun likely wouldn’t have come had it not been for the efforts of the ND defense and goalkeeper Mitch Auer.
With the wind at their back and the potent Mike Frasca leading the charge, the Cadets (19-8-3) went on the attack early to put the Irish on their heels.
Utilizing their speed on the outside, the Cadets managed to generate a few dangerous chances in the box but could not find their way past the 6-foot-3 Auer, who made three crucial saves in regulation and one in the shootout.
Perhaps the Cadets’ best chance came with 17:20 to play in the first half when Frasca, who had scored 42 goals on the season coming in, struck a header off the crossbar. Frasca nearly scored minutes later but sent his open volley from short range harmlessly over the goal.
“We didn’t have our best game yesterday. Today, I thought we played with tremendous heart,” said Marmion coach Kevin O’Connor, who retired as Cadets coach after 16 years at the helm following the loss. “As a coach you can only ask your players to leave it all on the field.
“Notre Dame is a great team with a storied history. We created a lot of great chances and we should be proud.”
The Irish managed to settle things down by the end of the half and after the break had the run of play against the Cadets.
But like Marmion, ND had difficulty finishing in the box and failed to score despite putting 11 shots on goal.
“That’s kind of been our problem this year,” Bare said. “We’ve just had a hard time putting the ball away. We’ve had games where we come out and every shot we’re taking is going in, and we’ve had games where we go out and create chances but nothing goes in the net.
“Credit to them, they were a difficult team to break down. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find a goal in regulation.”
Despite ND controlling play after the break, Marmion was able to conjure up a late run of offense and likely would have scored had it not been for Auer, whose diving attempt on a goal-bound strike by Frasca with 1:40 to play helped keep the game level.
Semifinal Story: Mather too fast for ND
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