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Girls Soccer: Benet’s Season Ends in PKs; St. Francis Earns 1st State Trip

Both teams line up for starting lineup introductions before Tuesday’s game.

Benet held its opponents scoreless the first 285 minutes of the playoffs. 15 more minutes and the Redwings would have clinched a spot in 2A state semifinals.

The Redwings outscored their opponents 24-0 in their first three games, and held a 1-0 lead over St. Francis more than halfway through Tuesday’s 2A supersectional game played at Benedictine University.

But with 15:02 left in the second half, Spartans forward Amanda Gaggioli broke through the Redwing defense, scoring a goal to tie the game at 1-1. The game went to penalty kicks after the score remained tied through the duration of regulation and four ten-minute overtime periods. There, St. Francis outscored Benet 4-2 to earn a berth in the state semifinals.

“We’re not the best penalty kick team in the history of mankind,” Benet coach Bob Gros said. “We’ve worked on it. I’ve tried everything under the sun. But there’s so much psychology involved. There’s a little bit of luck too.”

Sydney Fox’s successful penalty kick sent St. Francis (22-3) to its first ever appearance in the state semifinals. Taylor Bucaro, Kaitlin Bucaro and Gaggioli also made penalty kicks for the Spartans.

“It feels great, it really does. I feel like this isn’t really real right now, but it’s great,” said Gaggioli

The Redwings dominated possession in the first half and outshot the Spartans 10-4 over the first 40 minutes. With 8:54 left in the first half, Jessica Smetana scored after receiving a great pass from Amanda Kaiser. The senior’s shot went off the far post and into the back of the net, putting the Redwings up 1-0.

The momentum shifted in the second half. The Spartans started to play more aggressively and dominated possession of the ball. With just over 15 minutes left in the second half, St. Francis snapped Benet’s 285 minute playoff scoreless streak when Gaggioli scored from 10 yards out after receiving a feed from Kaitlin Bucaro.

“I just saw the pass coming in, and my teammate (Fox) just let it go through her legs. I was open and just put it in,” Gaggioli said.

Worn down by temperatures in the mid-80s, both teams had trouble generating anything in the four overtime periods. St. Francis outshot Benet 5-2 over the last 40 minutes, and the Redwings didn’t get off a shot attempt over the last two overtimes.

Despite being outshot, Gros felt the Redwings had the better chances in overtime.

“In terms of more consistent pressure, I think in the last 40 minutes we had a little bit of an advantage there,” Gros said. “We just couldn’t get it in. You just have one of those days, and it doesn’t pay off.”

Benet finishes the season 18-5-3. The Redwings came into Tuesday’s game unbeaten in their previous 17 games.

St. Francis will play St. Viator at 11 a.m. Friday in the first of two 2A semifinals at North Central College in Naperville. Glenwood will face U. High of Normal in the second semifinal.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.

St. Francis players celebrate with their friends and family after the game.

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Boys Track Preview: Neuqua Valley’s Derrick And Bender Among Local Contenders At State Meet

Runners get ready for the 400 relay at last week’s Naperville North sectional.

When Neuqua Valley seniors Mark Derrick and Jacob Bender step onto the blue track at the boys track and field state finals in Charleston this weekend, they will be looking to improve on their top-six finishes at last year’s state meet.

Both have a good shot.

Derrick – who finished sixth in the 3,200 last year – comes into this year’s meet with the third best 3A qualifying time (9:12.37). And Bender – last year’s runner-up in the 400 – enters with the second highest qualifying time (48.94), just .04 seconds behind Stepfan Thelemaque of Plainfield East.

The North Carolina-bound Derrick could place in two individual events.  He finished first in the 1,600 at the Naperville North sectional with the 11th best 3A qualifying time (4:18.30).

“Running both, it’s always tiring, but it kind of depends on the day. I ran a double at DGS and felt great after both of them,” Derrick said last week. “After the mile (at last Thursday’s sectional), it was like ‘Oh my God, this second race is going to be rough,’ but I was able to pull through.”

Derrick and the Nebraska-bound Bender are among the 20 individuals and 11 relays from local schools that will be competing at this weekend’s 118th annual boys track and field state finals.

Neuqua Valley will have three other individuals competing in Charleston: Senior Taylor Soltys in the 3,200, senior Andrew Peterson in the pole vault and junior Carlos Varela-Hernandez in the discus.

Varela-Hernandez – who qualified for state in the discus last year but didn’t place – will be a contender to place this weekend after having the 10th best 3A qualifying throw (164-1).

The Wildcats also qualified three relays for state: The 400 team of Bender, Joseph Younis, James Sampson and Eric Metoyer, the 800 team of Younis, Nick Rafacz, Dennis Thurow and Metoyer, and the 3,200 team of Andy Martinez, Kevin Skrip, Xander Jacobson and Rolan Dewgard.

Waubonsie Valley thrower Riley Kittridge has a good chance to place in both the shot put and discus. The junior placed first in both events at the Naperville North sectional with the fifth best 3A qualifying throw in the shot put (56-6) and eighth best in the discus (164-5).

“My goals down there are maybe not to win, but at least get personal records and do my best,” Kittridge said.

Warriors senior Jamaal Bearden also qualified in both throwing events.

Waubonsie senior Kyle Schafer won the 300 hurdles at sectionals and is a contender to do the same at state. His sectional run of 38.20 was the third best 3A qualifying time, just .08 seconds behind Derrick Willies of Rock Island.

Schafer also qualified for state as part of the Warriors’ 400 and 1,600 relay teams. He will be joined in the 400 by Austin Ameri, Tony Durns and Demitrius Gray and in the 1,600 by Ameri, Gray and John Burke.

The Warriors’ 1,600 relay qualified for state with a time of 3:19.07, the third best mark in 3A.

Waubonsie triple jumper James Travis will also be competing at state after placing first at sectionals with a jump of 44-1.

Naperville Central will be led in Charleston by its three state-qualifying relay squads: The 800 team of Brandon Lau, Tyler Haines, Kevin Kulling and Sam Bransby, the 1,600 team of Haines, Bransby, Kulling and Brad Kouchoukos and the 3,200 team of Kouchoukos, Forrest Thayer, Ethan Brodeur and Christian Schafer.

The 800 and 1,600 relays qualified for state despite entering sectionals with seed times above the state standard.

“We weren’t seeded at getting any qualifying state times and we weren’t in good lanes, but we didn’t let that discourage us,” Haines said.

The Redhawks also had three individuals qualify for state – Mike Juretschke and Kevin Rzepczynski in the pole vault and David Goodalis in the discus.

Naperville North had three individuals qualify for state – senior James Kerns in the 100 and 200, senior Nick Lyon in the pole vault and senior Kareem Midani in the long jump.

Midani earned second place at sectionals by jumping 22-7.5, more than a foot farther than his previous personal best.

“I wasn’t expecting to jump that far. I was expecting to get close to qualifying, but jumping that far, I honestly had no idea,” said Midani, who was only jumping 19 feet indoors earlier this spring. “I didn’t just make it to state, I passed that. It was awesome.”

Metea Valley had four individuals and one relay qualify out of the St. Charles North sectional. Twin brothers Joe and Matt Stewart both qualified in the 3,200. Joe won the race with a time of 9:15.27, the sixth best 3A qualifying mark, while Matt came in third (9:28.16).

The Stewart twins will be joined in Charleston by junior Colin Yorke (1,600), senior Ben Hulett (300 hurdles) and 1,600 relay team of Tre’sean Mackey, Alan Williams, Aaron Laskey, and William King.

Benet junior Anton Vershay qualified for the 2A state meet by finishing second at last Friday’s Lisle sectional. The Redwings’ 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams also qualified for state.

I wrote this story for the Naperville Sun. It appears here.

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Boys Baseball: Clutch Hitting Propels Benet Past Naperville North

Benet coach Scott Lawler noted that his team didn’t seem defeated in the aftermath of the Redwings’ heart-breaking loss to St. Laurence on Friday

“We walked away yesterday and our heads weren’t low. They knew they battled a great team and got beat. I was hoping it would translate into the next day,” said Lawler.

And it did. The Redwings bounced back with a 6-4 victory over visiting Naperville North on Saturday in Lisle.

“Yesterday was a tough loss, St. Laurence is a really good team. It was hard to lose it in the seventh like that, and I’m real proud of how we came out there today and fought all the way through,” said Benet third baseman Sam Santa Maria. “We didn’t let yesterday bring us down. For that reason, it was a big win.”

A day after blowing the lead in the seventh inning, the Redwings had to hold off a late rally from Naperville North.

Benet led 6-2 going in to the seventh, but RBI singles by Huskies first baseman Alex Moss and Huskies catcher Tyler Hogan cut the Redwings’ lead to 6-4.

The Huskies then loaded the bases with two outs, but reliever Patrick McInerney struck out Huskies designated hitter Pat Mollo to end the game.

“Mac [McInerney] hadn’t pitched in a week. He’s a competitor, so I knew he would do as best as he could, but it was tough,” said Lawler. “He got the out though.”

The Redwings’ offense consistently came through in the clutch on Saturday. Five of the team’s six runs were scored with two outs.

After two outs were recorded in the first inning, back-to-back RBI doubles by McInerney and right fielder Andrew Mogni gave the Redwings an early 2-0 lead.

The Redwings (5-3) started a three-run rally in the fifth inning with two outs and the bases empty.

A single by Billy Tumpane, back-to-back RBI doubles by Chris Whelan and Chris Stout and an RBI single by Santa Maria gave the Redwings a 6-1 lead.

The Huskies (3-5) were led on offense by second baseman Nick Solak, who went went 2-for-2 with two walks and a triple. The junior went 3-for-3 on Friday and has reached base in seven straight plate appearances.

“He’s [Solak] doing all the right things offensively and he’s doing all the right things defensively,” said Naperville North coach Carl Hunckler. “He plays the game hard, and we love to see it. He’s a great role model for everyone else on this team.”

Saturday’s game wrapped up a five-game week for Benet. The Redwings went 4-1 and Lawler said he learned a lot about his team over its spring break stretch.

“Every game we came in and competed. We jumped up on some teams, we came from behind, had to hold off some rallies,” said Lawler. “We got tested this week in every way, and we lost. We saw what our team is made of by bouncing back.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.

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Boys Baseball: Rajewski Tosses Shutout As Benet Beats Waubonsie Valley

Going into Thursday’s game against Waubonsie Valley, Benet starting pitcher Jordan Rajewski just wanted to keep his team in the game.

The right-handed junior did that and more, tossing a complete game shutout as the Redwings defeated the visiting Warriors 8-0.

“I just wanted to hold them to low runs, and set up the next guy,” said Rajewski. “I had no idea I’d go that many innings, I just wanted to keep the game close.”

Rajewski scattered seven hits and one walk over seven innings while striking out two batters. The junior was able to keep the Warriors off balance by mixing up his pitches.

“I started off throwing off-speed, and got them out in front. Then I just tried to paint the outside with fastballs,” said Rajewski. “I really had them guessing.”

Rajewski was able to work out of some first inning trouble. Waubonsie Valley had runners on second and third with just one out after Warriors catcher Tyler Josupait doubled to right field. However, Rajewski struck out Warriors third baseman James Palasz and got Warriors outfielder Zac Steele to line out to Benet second baseman Chris Stout to end the inning unscathed.

Benet coach Scott Lawler thought his pitcher’s first inning escape set the tone for the rest of the game.

“I think what really set him [Rajewski] apart was that first inning. He got out of the jam, and I think that was a big statement inning for him right there,” said Lawler.

In the second inning, the bottom of Benet’s lineup produced the Redwings’ first two runs.

No. 8 hitter Greg Arend reached base on an infield error, allowing Andrew Mogni to score the game’s first run. No. 9 hitter Billy Tumpane then drove in No. 7 hitter Joe Boyle on a sacrifice fly to center field.

Benet (4-2) pulled away with a six-run fifth inning. Stout capped off the offensive explosion with a single to right field that drove in Arend and Tumpane and put Benet up 8-0. Stout had three hits and two RBIs to lead the Redwings on offense.

“I’ve been up in big spots in a couple straight games and I haven’t really come through. I’m just getting more confident, and I’m looking to be more aggressive at the plate,” said Stout. “In the fifth, I stayed back on a first-pitch curveball and got the hit.”

Waubonsie Valley (2-2) coach Dan Fezzuoglio said his team had too many mental breakdowns on Thursday.

“We just can’t have them. They’re a good team, and credit to them for swinging the bats, but we have to do a better job from a mental standpoint to keep us in games,” said Fezzuoglio.

Lawler believes his team has taken on the right attitude this season and that it has led to early success.

“They’re hardworking kids. I think there are some high school teams out there that probably could make a few mistakes and still win. But we can’t, and the kids know that. We have to play well to win,” said Lawler.

“We’re scrappy, and I love the kids.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun, Aurora Beacon and yourseason.com. It appears here.

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