Crete-Monee’s defense comes through for regional title

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When Michael Souffrant was given the assignment of marking Bremen’s leading scorer, Ricardo Avalos, in Friday’s Class 2A Rich East Regional championship, the junior was a bit worried.

That is, at least, until the opening whistle sounded.

“I was a bit nervous at first,” Souffrant said. “Once I started playing the game, though, I was fine. I was ready and I was excited. I knew I could handle it.”

Souffrant did the job on Avalos and led a terrific defensive effort from seventh seed Crete-Monee, who knocked off second seed Bremen 1-0 in Park Forest.

“Our defense played its best game all season,” Crete-Monee coach Neil Hodge said. “We had some tough losses early in the season which is why we were the number seven seed, but we knew we were better than that. This is a testament to all these kids who went the whole summer without a coach (before Hodge was hired a week before the season started).”

It’s the first regional title since 2011 for Crete-Monee (14-7-2), which will take on Marian Catholic or Providence in Tuesday’s Lincoln-Way West Sectional semifinals. Bremen finished 13-7-2.

The game’s only goal came in the seventh minute as Fernando Aguirre chipped a pass ahead to Karon Spencer, who made a run down the right sideline, collected the ball and scored on a high looping shot.

“Fernando played a good ball to me and I just chipped it over and in,” Spencer said. “It was exciting, but I treated it like just another goal.”

The Warriors, with Souffrant, Bryce Walker, Andy Garcia, Tyien Simmons and Tyson Spencer leading the defense in front of Carlos Soto (two saves), made that hold up, though it certainly wasn’t easy.

Bremen spent the vast majority of the second half on the attack and had six corners plus two free kicks from striking distance in the final 37 minutes.

“(Souffrant) was the star,” Tyson Spencer said. “I just tried to help him out back there. This championship means everything to us.”

Bremen, which got three saves from David Strom, had several close calls. Cristian Lopez, who had most of the Braves’ chances, fired just over the crossbar on a breakaway with 30 minutes left and Jorge Villanueva had a shot deflected just wide with three minutes to go.

“We played a good second half, but couldn’t put together 80 minutes,” Bremen coach Steve Granat said. “That’s been our problem all year. We’ve got a young team so hopefully we can learn from this. (Crete-Monee) played an incredible game. I was impressed with their will and drive. Hats off to them.”

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