Chalk up No. 504 for Mike Taylor. Two weeks ago, the legendary St. Viator coach became just the second boys coach in state history to record his 500th career victory.
Not that he is paying particular attention. “I never keep count [of the victories], and that’s not the reason I coach,” Taylor said. “I’m there to prove that we can put together a team in two months that wins a state championship.”
Step 1 played out a little rocky at times but the No. 19 Lions parlayed a goal and assist by senior forward Zach Gyurizca to escape a spirited host Amundsen 2-0 in a Class 2A regional semifinal at Winnemac on Wednesday.
“The game was ugly, but the first game of the playoffs there’s always a lot of anxiety and this, that and the other you have play through,” Taylor said. “It doesn’t matter how you win, just that you survive and move on and that’s what we did.”
St. Viator (16-5-1) won for the 13th time in its last 15 games to advance to face Grayslake Central in Saturday’s regional final.
Playing in Class 3A last year after finishing third in Class 2A in 2012, St. Viator was stunned by Carmel in the first round of the playoffs. “Knowing what happened last year, we came out with a lot of energy,” Gyurizca said. “It obviously wasn’t working at first, but we kept that energy and it worked out.”
The Vikings (6-8-1) frustrated St. Viator with a policy of containment that looked to thwart the Lions’ forward attack. For most of the first half the strategy played out to its advantage. Coach Alex Perez deployed five Vikings defenders and boxed St. Viator in.
Gyurizca blasted a shot that skimmed over the top of the crossbar in the seventh minute. St. Viator struggled to get at the end of possession and create meaningful scoring chances. An apparent goal by Gyurizca off a throw in from Chris Beiersdorf in the 20th minute was waved off for offsides, only intensifying St. Viator’s anguish.
“The one that was called back was definitely frustrating,” Gyurizca said. “We just kept playing through it and we knew that eventually we’d get one.”
With time slipping away in the first half, St. Viator finally struck off a counterattack. Forward Aiden Williams punched a through ball on the left edge that Gyurizca outraced a defender and then popped the ball past Amundsen goalkeeper Enrique Espinosa, who flew off the line.
Gyurizca controlled the ball and powered in the final touch in the 40th minute. “Aiden saw me and knew that I could outrun my defender and that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “We needed that push, because I don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t scored there.”
Perez saw his strategy crumble with that score just 39 seconds to play before half. “It was a killer, because in order for us to win, we needed the score to be 0-0 at the half,” Perez said.
After failing to convert on several prime scoring chances in the second half, St. Viator put the game away with a sharp and synchronized goal of Beiersdorf playing a through ball down the right side that Gyurizca quickly played to freshman reserve midfielder Jack Hartman, whose one-touch snapped inside the near post in the 70th minute for clincher.
It was a bang-bang-bang sequence and something to behold. “We’ve been working on that play a lot, and we executed it perfectly,” Hartman said.
Goalkeeper Aaron Tres recorded four saves in posting the shutout for the Lions.
Gritty, unsung Amundsen acquitted itself very well. “We played one of the top 20 teams in the state very well,” Perez said. “It was a thrill to play an elite program like that and show we could play with them for most of the game.”