GENESEO – Playing for their first boys soccer regional championship since 2016, the Sterling Golden Warriors came in playing with house money.
The top-seeded Geneseo Maple Leafs were well aware of that as they met up with the No. 6 Golden Warriors in Saturday’s IHSA Class 2A Geneseo Regional title game, and for the better part of a half, Sterling had Geneseo on edge.
However, a late first-half goal by Leafs senior midfielder Logan Corgan was the icebreaker the hosts needed as they broke out with four second-half goals and rolled to a 5-0 victory to earn their third straight regional championship.
“That was really huge, it brought our spirits up high,” Corgan said of his tally, which came with 7:55 left in the first half. “We were really nervous coming in, and that gave us so much more confidence. We were able to play as a team.”
Up to that point, both teams had their opportunities to break through, but Sterling (9-15-2) seemed to be slowly gaining momentum to go with its confidence, particularly sophomore goalkeeper Jesus Garcia. Pressed into service by injuries to Sterling’s two top keepers, Garcia had four of his seven saves in the first half, and took away several would-be Geneseo shot attempts with his aggressive play.
“He played great,” Sterling coach Brian Cebula said. “He did everything he needed to do, and everything he could do. He kept us in the game early on.”
At the same time, Cebula felt that not being the ones to break the ice first wound up hurting the Warriors.
“We had some chances, the first half especially,” he said. “The first 30 minutes, we played pretty well. As the game wore on, the momentum started to swing after that first goal.”
For the Maple Leafs (12-7-1), Corgan’s tally opened the floodgates to their four-goal second half that propelled them into a 7 p.m. Wednesday semifinal date with Morton (17-3-5) at the Washington Sectional.
A little more than seven minutes after halftime, junior forward Brayden Combs scored the first of his two goals off a feed from Corgan to double the Geneseo lead.
“Everybody had a lot of nerves, with it being the regional championship,” Combs said. “Logan getting that first goal made us more comfortable, and we knew we could pull away with the win.”
Prior to that, Sterling junior midfielder Daniel Bermudez had a good shot on goal, but Geneseo senior Karson Emry (4 saves) tipped the ball over the net. The first-year Leaf went on to post his first playoff shutout.
“It was all of us. The defense did the work; I never lose confidence in those guys,” Emry said. “This is awesome, especially being a first-year player and being surrounded by such amazing guys.”
Just shy of the 60-minute mark, senior midfielder Matt Daly made it 3-0 when he scored off a Bennett Kreiner helper. Kreiner then set up senior midfielder Zach Stoeger with 17:25 left to put the Leafs up by four.
“At their house [on Sept. 20], we won 2-1, and since then Sterling has been steadily increasing and playing better,” Geneseo coach Harvey Morton said. “They did not play like a No. 6 seed. After halftime, we picked it up and were pushing hard, and had a good all-around game.”
Combs put the capper on the Leafs’ scoring, beating Garcia with 7:31 remaining to make it 5-0 and effectively begin the countdown to a third consecutive regional championship.
“Being up 1-0 at halftime, we knew anything could happen at any time,” said Combs. “The second half would be our last 40 minutes on this field this season, and for a lot of us, it would be the last 40 minutes here ever. That gave all of us motivation to get this win.
“Even when it was 3-0, we knew we had to get more, but at the same time, it allowed us to play our game the way we know how to play.”
Cebula felt that as hard as his club battled, it deserved a better fate.
“Congratulations to Geneseo,” he said. “They played well, took advantage of our opportunities and capitalized on them. I just feel bad for our guys. They gave it their best.”