Crusaders roll into state semis
Grace Christian's soccer team has been building toward the state tournament, and trying to take the one big step from state runner-up to state champ, all season. The No. 1-seeded Crusaders (25-2-1) took the drama out of their opening state tournament match, a quarterfinal versus No. 9 Stateville Christian, in a hurry.
Facing an opponent set on bunkering 10 or 11 players back within 40 yards of its goal and setting its game plan entirely on defending, the Crusaders scored 1:21 into the match, then three more times in the next 20 minutes on the way to a 9-0 victory.
Senior forward Evan Kannarr got the first Crusader tally, smoothly heading in Sergio Charco's chipped cross for a beautiful goal, then added another goal in the second half for his 72nd goal of his Crusader career to tie the school record.
Head coach Chris Pratt said Kannarr was in somewhat of a slump, at least goal-scoring wise in the last few matches. It had not stopped his overall game though and it hadn't slowed the Crusader attack a bit, one more sign of the Crusaders' overall depth.
"We just have a solid, talented team. I can't emphasize enough our eight seniors and how much that helps," Pratt said.
"I don't have a number one scorer or even a guy who's our best player," he said.
Grace Christian's 21st consecutive victory was a team effort, even just by looking at the scoresheet. Kannarr was the only Crusader to notch two goals. Junior midfielder Jose Leonidez was the only player to get two assists out of the nine goals. Eleven Crusaders had a goal or an assist.
After the Crusaders took a 1-0 lead, Statesville Christian's defense held on for 10 minutes before conceding again. Senior Salvador Leonidez chased down a long ball, beating the offsides trap the visitors tried using throughout the match, then Leonidez blasted a narrow-angle shot from the left side of the box into the goal.
In the 16th minute, from a corner kick put into the box by Jose Leonidez, Joel Benitez was on the spot at the top of the six-yard box to poke a loose ball into the net for a 3-0 Crusader lead.
The Crusaders finished another breakaway, with a long ball from Brandon Monroy in the Grace half of the field, to Jose Leonidez on a run down the middle of the field, for a goal in the 22nd minute.
Charco, Kannarr, Joe Urrutia, Matthew Russell and Sam Holt netted goals in the second half. Victor Mondragon, Salvador Leonidez, Benitez, Ricardo Castaneda and Jose Leonidez had an assist each.
On Russell's goal, making it 8-0 in the 76th minute, Kannarr could've set a new program record. Russell slotted an accurate shot across goal, from the left side of the box inside the far post, and Kannarr was in position to help if over the line and, considering the work he's done as a Crusader, no one would've said anything. Instead, Kannarr will be looking for his 73rd goal when it'll really mean a lot in a state semifinal Friday afternoon.
Grace Christian will face the winner of No. 4 Ridgecroft (18-0) and No. 5 Wayne Country Day (11-6-1) at 4 p.m. Friday at Greenfield School, which is also host for the final at 1 p.m. Saturday.