HOFFMAN ESTATES – The beginning of Morton’s 10th appearance at the state soccer finals was anything but perfect.
The ending also was less than satisfactory.
Senior midfielder Luis Gonzalez and the Mustangs walked off the field at Hoffman Estates on Saturday carrying the program’s sixth state trophy, but the Class 3A fourth-place hardware was not what they had in mind.
Morton (21-3-3) had been considered a slight favorite to win the championship, but those hopes were dashed by a 1-0 loss to Fremd in Friday’s semifinals, which snapped the Mustangs’ 10-game winning streak.
[ Photos: Morton vs. Lockport, Class 3A third-place soccer match ]
The Mustangs then suffered a shocking 2-1 loss to Lockport in the third-place match.
“It was tough, especially since we are all beat up,” Gonzalez said. “We have a lot of injured players.
“I was injured myself. We were just trying to fight through that. Those were tough losses.”
The loss to Fremd hurt not just on the scoreboard. The Mustangs were forced to play Saturday without star forward Giovanni Alvarez, who was serving a mandatory one-game suspension after getting a red card for a breakaway-stopping hard tackle with 1:16 left in the second half.
The absence of their captain seemed to demoralize the Mustangs, who played listlessly during much of the game against Lockport.
“Obviously, it was a huge loss,” Morton coach Jim Bageanis said. “I think the kids were let down from yesterday.
“I wish our effort would have been better earlier in the game. We didn’t come out as hard as we should.
We made it exciting in the last five minutes, but we needed to play more than a 40-minute half.”
That continued even after Lockport’s Adam Doyle was ejected with 33:29 left in the second half, giving the Mustangs a man-advantage.
The Porters (20-2), who were making their state finals debut, scored two shorthanded goals, one by Dawid Molek with 16:09 remaining and another by Dominic Williams at the 10:31 mark.
The Mustangs, though, didn’t quit, staging a furious rally in which Gonzalez scored a power play goal with 5:32 remaining to cut the gap to 2-1.
Gonzalez worked a give-and-go with forward Max Aquino, whose pass sprung Gonzalez into the box for a 12-yard shot that beat Lockport goalkeeper Patrick Marshall.
“It was good,” Gonzalez said. “I was just looking for a 1-2 and luckily Max gave me a special ball.”
The Mustangs kept attacking literally until the end. They got a corner kick as the clocked ticked down under 10 seconds and Eddie Barraza headed the ball into the goal as time expired.
The Mustangs thought they had scored the equalizer, but the referee ruled the ball went in after the buzzer.
While disappointed with the loss, Bageanis put his team’s accomplishments in perspective. It was the Mustangs second consecutive trophy, coming on top of a runner-up showing in 2019, the last year the state tournament was held.
“I know our expectations are high at our school, but it’s such a crapshoot to get to where we get every year, having to beat the teams we need to beat to get there,” Bageanis said. “I don’t think people outside of the soccer community knows how hard it is to get there year after year.
“Some schools wait 30 years before they get there and some don’t get there at all.”