Lake Park has experienced a gilded season punctuated by an undefeated run in its first year in the DuPage Valley and its first sectional final appearance in 20 years.
One game stuck in the memory of the Lancers, a 5-1 shellacking suffered Sept. 10 at home against St. Charles East. In time, Lake Park improved and got tougher. “We’re a completely different team, especially in the backline since that game,” Mike Catalano said.
Fueled by a quest to prove they could compete at the same level, junior forward Oliver Horgan scored on a header in the 53rd minute that propelled the No. 6 Lancers over the top-ranked Saints 1-0 in a Class 3A sectional championship at Schaumburg Saturday afternoon.
Lake Park (20-2-3) won its 11th consecutive game and established a new school mark for victories in a year. The Lancers advance to meet Larkin at the Bartlett Supersectional Tuesday.
The Lancers established their aggressive mentality from the jump, nearly scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes, once on a Catalano rocket from about 14 yards out that St. Charles East keeper Chris Lucatorto made a superb diving one-handed stop. East senior defender Kevin Heinrich also cleared a point-blank ball from the Saints’ goal.
The intense and physical game saw a series of player injuries in the first half. Lake Park broke through in the second half. Catalano was again the catalyst. His shot was deflected. On the re-start, senior midfielder Joe Keane found Horgan for the game-winner.
“Nobody was really marking me,” Horgan said. “There was a guy who came up and was face-guarding me, but I got behind him, Joe got me the ball and I put it in.”
Though some 27 minutes remained, the dynamics of the match changed dramatically. “We knew if we got one goal, we could beat them,” Horgan said. “Once we scored, we played great defense and we didn’t let anything get passed us.”
Lake Park was sharper and quicker to balls, both coaches agreed. “You have to give credit to Lake Park,” St. Charles East coach Paul Jennison said. “We lost two games this year and both times were to teams we handled during the season.
“Their lads were ready to play, and they deserved to win the match. They outbattled us.”
Lake Park keeper Steve Mack preserved the victory with a couple of sharp defensive plays down the stretch as St. Charles East (20-2-4) aggressively pushed forward in an attempt for the equalizer. He had five saves for the Lancers. He made a diving stop off a ball by Zach Manibog in the 67th minute. He also denied the Saints’ Evan DiLeonardi twice down the stretch.
Catalano is one of the state’s best players and leads the Lancers with 28 goals and 10 assists. He twice cleared the ball defensively on headers, including off a corner kick, allowing Lake Park to run out the clock.
Lake Park held its collective breath after DiLeonardi ripped a ball from about 12 yards out from the right wing with 10 seconds remaining that just skimmed over the top of the post.