Evanston leading charmed life in playoffs

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Northwestern’s football team earned the nickname Cardiac Cats by playing a myriad of thrilling games over the past two decades. In the last two weeks, the Evanston boys soccer team has become the Cardiac Kits.

The Wildkits won each of their first three games of the postseason by one goal, and all three matches have come down to the wire. Senior Cobi Ortega scored the game-winning goal in overtime in Evanston’s 2-1 victory over Prospect in the teams’ Loyola Regional semifinal on Oct. 22. The Wildkits, the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A Evanston Sectional, edged Maine West 4-3 for the regional title three days later. The Wildkits topped the Warriors 4-2 in penalty kicks.

The Cardiac Kits were tied with Maine South with less than six minutes left in the second half Tuesday when Evanston senior midfielder Aaron Stone weaved through the Hawks’ defense and found senior forward Gus Fleps alone in the center of the 18-yard box. Fleps took one touch before he slipped his shot past the Maine South goalkeeper and into the back of the net. Evanston booked a spot in Saturday’s sectional final with the 2-1 win.

“There’s something in the air,” said Fleps, when asked if this Evanston squad feels special to him. “I think that we just stay composed (late in matches) and we have faith in ourselves and each other. We trust each other, and that allows us to score goals like (Fleps’ match-winner) and get through these PK shootouts if we have to.”

Fleps and Stone both added that the Wildkits’ success late in postseason matches has been aided by the coaching staff’s season-long emphasis on conditioning.

Evanston never seemed to tire during its match against Maine South, growing even stronger in the final 10 minutes. Stone, who played all 80 minutes against the Hawks, set up Fleps’ game-winner with a dynamic run from the midfield. The Wildkits then clamped down on Maine South as it tried to produce a late equalizer.

“I think it’s actually the stress on fitness that (coach Franz) Calixte and the other coaches put on us all year, from the preseason,” Stone said when asked what has allowed Evanston to play so well late in matches. “I think we work harder than any other team. We run a lot in August, even before our games start, so we’re able to really push in the last 10 minutes or so, where other teams are dropping off.”

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