PALATINE — No one expected the Highland Park and Buffalo Grove boys soccer teams to be in the position they found themselves in Tuesday.
Competing in a Class 3A Palatine Sectional semifinal, Highland Park was a rare No. 12-seeded favorite because its opponent, Buffalo Grove, won its regional as a No. 14 seed.
The closeness of the seeds matched the level of competition. In the second half, Highland Park got a break. A foul call on Buffalo Grove inside its goal box awarded the Giants a penalty kick, and with 26:26 remaining, Tony Barrios cashed in. The senior midfielder beat Bison goalkeeper Daniel Sempoch with a low, left-footed shot that turned out to be the game-winner. Highland Park’s 2-1 victory over Buffalo Grove (11-11-2) earned the Giants a berth in Friday’s sectional title game against Fremd, which beat Libertyville 1-0 in another semifinal Tuesday.
“We persevered. It’s one thing you learn: You aren’t going to win every game pretty,” Highland Park coach Blake Novotny said. “It doesn’t matter how it happens as long as you keep playing.”
Since the postseason began, the Giants (13-6-4) have spent time at the end of each practice working on penalty kicks. When junior midfielder Aidan Subra was tripped near the Bison penalty box, it was Barrios who stepped to the line. All of the practice preparation had him ready.
“I calmed myself, relaxed and [did] not let the moment get to me,” Barrios said. “I did my walk up and knew exactly where it was going to go.”
Buffalo Grove’s best chance for the equalizer came minutes after the Giants’ go-ahead score. Bison junior Hector Herrera lost his mark just outside the goal box. From the right side, he fired a tailing through ball. Spinning away from Highland Park goalkeeper Carlos Pineda, senior Zach Masciopinto connected on a header that bounced in front of the goal and over the crossbar.
All of the offense generated in the first half came off corner kicks. Highland Park struck first when senior defender Juan Marban fired a low ball that found the foot of sophomore forward Tommy Quirk. Quirk’s shot beat Sempoch, giving the Giants a 1-0 lead 15 minutes into the game. Just over five minutes later, the Bison netted the equalizer when Mike Kotlyar’s corner bounced off the hands of Pineda. During the ensuing scramble, senior midfielder Christian Miguel fired a shot past Pineda for a 1-1 tie.
The Bison end their season one victory from matching last season’s run to a sectional final. They accomplished that feat as a No. 15 seed in 2013.
“They were able to play their game in the second half. They knocked the ball around and kept it away from us. One of our kids made a mistake and tripped a kid in the box,” Buffalo Grove coach Rick Carlson said. “That’s what happens. One play, one mistake, and that’s the season.”