Thornton co-op coach David Gonzalez said he still roams the halls at the three schools the program represents – Thornton, Thornwood and Thornridge- begging people to come out for the soccer team.
After the Wildcats made history Saturday, maybe that won’t be necessary next season.
A year after falling short in a sectional title game, the seventh-seed Wildcats finished the job Saturday, bringing home the program’s first sectional crown with a 2-0 win over top-seeded Lockport in the Class 3A Sandburg Sectional championship in Orland Park.
“Stuff like this will definitely make it easier for us,” Gonzalez said. “These kids understand what this means for the community. You can see all the people that came out to support us and all the former soccer players in our program here to cheer us on. That’s what makes it so special.”
Thornton (14-7-2) will meet the host Ironmen in Tuesday’s Normal Community Supersectional.
Saturday, the Wildcats’ success started – as it has all postseason – with defense. Thornton still has not allowed a goal in the playoffs.
Antonio Castro made five saves while the back line of Edgar Estrada, Ruben Salgado and Diego Leon gave him plenty of support.
“(Gonzalez) told us to watch out for their throw-ins and set pieces,” Castro said. “I just tried to be aggressive and come out and get the ball whenever I could.”
The Wildcats needed just one moment of magic from their star player to break what had been a defensive struggle against the Porters (17-4-2).
Off a deep throw-in, Ricardo Estrada got the ball on the right sideline, cut towards the middle of the field and unleashed a laser from 25 yards out that went off the inside of the far post and in to give his team the lead in the 30th minute.
“I was just looking for a shot and I knew if I got one, I had to make it count,” Ricardo Estrada said. “I wasn’t really aiming (for the inside of the far post); I was just aiming for it to go in.”
Ricardo Estrada is one of just four players to play on last season’s team that lost in the sectional final to Sandburg.
Thornton’s defense took it home from there, and the Wildcats got help from a second-half own goal from Lockport.
The Porters, who set a program record for wins in a season, had two good scoring chances in the second half as Vinny Smithwick took a pass from Jack Dilger and got a close-in look, but was denied by Castro.
Castro also made a save on a Smithwick free kick with 28:12 to go.
“It’s very rare to see us get shut out,” Lockport coach Chris Beal said. “They had a very athletic keeper who came out and collected everything. They did their homework on us and they did a nice job.
“This was a fantastic group of individuals to work with. They accomplished a lot. They’re just shell-shocked right now.”