Boys Soccer

Top-seeded Joliet West breezes into regional final

JOLIET – AJ Romero had just taken an outlet pass from his goalkeeper. The Joliet West junior then looked ahead and only saw a clear field along with two teammates and a defender ahead of him.

“Danny made a nice save and got it out to me,” said Romero of his junior goalkeeper, Danny Gudino. “Then it was just me and the whole field. I came up and ran as fast as I could. I saw my teammates [junior Victor Antomez and sophomore Adian Rodriguez] and sent it through.”

The pass found the foot of Rodriguez, who clanged it off the right post, but it was inside enough that it went in for the second goal of the match. That came with 4:30 left in the first half for the Tigers.

But that was the goal that seemed to signal that the Tigers were here and ready to play as they went on to a 5-0 shutout of Bradley-Bourbonnais on Tuesday afternoon in the Class 3A Joliet West Regional semifinal.

The top-seeded Tigers (13-9-2) will face No. 3 seed Moline (16-3-3), a 4-0 winner over No. 6 seed Joliet Central (3-10-1) in the second match Tuesday night, at 4 p.m. on Friday in the regional championship match. Joliet West is playing for back-to-back regional championships. The playoffs weren’t held during the COVID-shortened spring season.

“It feels good. It feels really good,” Romero said. “We’ve put in a lot of work all season, and I’m happy we’re here. We’ve won the first game and look forward to Friday. We are ready for anybody.”

Romero tallied the Tigers final goal and finished with that score and a pair of assists. Rodriguez had the first two goals of the match, which is the first time he’s had a pair of goals in a varsity match. His header off a pass from sophomore Adrian Maldonado got Joliet West on the scoreboard midway through the first half.

“It was a great pass, and credit to Adrain,” Rodriguez said of his first tally. “I was able to get a flick on it. [Almost missing] the second one gave me a little heart attack, but it went in. We’re capable of a lot, and we can go far.”

Joliet West continued to pepper away to open the second half. Boilermaker junior keeper Braydan McKuras made several nice saves or the deficit could have been greater.

But he couldn’t save a nice shot from the left by Maldonado that went for the third goal with 32:13 to play in the match. Senior Michael O’Shea scored off an assist from Romero with 12:54 remaining. Romero capped the scoring on a nice blast on an assist from freshman Jake Polacek with 4:46 to play.

Ethan Cooksey, one of eight seniors on the team, nearly joined the party. His apparent goal, with just more than three minutes remaining, was waved off, however, because of an offside call.

“If we play the way we played in the first 20 minutes of the second half, we can play with anyone,” Joliet West coach Mike O’Shea said. “We dominated in the second half which is what we wanted to see.

“We play a tough schedule, and we want to be ready for this. It’s very nice to be hosting a regional, and we’ve never won a sectional at Joliet West. We’d love that opportunity, and when that team that passes well and moves quickly shows up, we are dangerous.”