After Bloom let a 2-0 lead slip away Wednesday against host Lincoln-Way Central, Blazing Trojans coach Kelly Gutierrez said she could see some of her players starting to panic.
Eric Mendoza said he could sense it, too. But the freshman, called up to the varsity just two weeks ago, came off the bench and provided the strike that righted the ship for the Blazing Trojans.
Mendoza’s goal with just over 20 minutes left in the match lifted Bloom to a 4-2 win in a Class 3A regional semifinal in New Lenox.
“From the bench, it seemed like we were getting pretty nervous,” Mendoza said. “We just had to settle down.”
Mendoza’s score came off a free kick from 35 yards out, after the ball deflected off a Knight defender and found its way to the freshman at the top of the box.
“I was at the top of the six and someone had to finish it,” Mendoza said. “I just got my leg on it. It was a great feeling to score.”
Berto Gomez added an insurance goal off a Juan Elizalde cross with 10:35 to go.
Bloom (15-4-2) will meet Lincoln-Way East in Saturday’s regional final. The Griffins topped the Blazing Trojans in the same round last season.
Lincoln-Way Central finished 8-10-4.
Down 2-0 early, the Knights got back into it when Jacob Lysik was fouled in the box and Tyler Massa converted the penalty kick with 12:14 left in the first half.
Seven minutes into the second half, Cole Senesac scored off Lysik’s cross on a free kick to even the match.
“We did a great job fighting back,” Central coach Sean Fahey. “We got unlucky on their third goal on a deflection, but that can happen. I’m proud of how far our kids came from the beginning of the year to now.”
Cesar Flores scored on a penalty kick in the second minute and Alex Segoviano found the net on a free kick for Bloom, which got six saves from Vicente Herrera.
“At the beginning of the second half, I thought we were losing control,” Gutierrez said. “Then Eric stepped up. He was in the right place at the right time and he did what was he was supposed to do.”