Lions edged by Morton in boys soccer

Despite sectional loss, LTHS won 18 games, fifth straight regional title

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Scotty Gruszka

Contributing Reporter

The Lyons Township High School boys soccer team's season ended against a familiar opponent in the Hinsdale Central Sectional final on Friday, Oct. 27. West Suburban Conference crossover rival Morton edged the Lions 2-1 in a thriller between two of the area's top teams.

The Lions' goal came via a tap in from senior forward Charlie Clarke, but they were unable to hold Morton which rallied with two goals.

The Lions captured their fifth straight regional title and their 11th out of the past 12 years, finishing with an overall record of 18-5-1.

"It was an even game and it came down to a play here and there," LTHS coach Paul Labbato said about the Morton matchup. "Sometimes we were able to make the play and sometimes they were. Ultimately, we just ran out of time and our season ended."

LTHS rolled into the showdown on a 10-game winning streak dating back to the middle of September. In the sectional semifinals, the Lions outlasted conference rival Oak Park and RiverForest 3-2 in a riveting double-overtime match.

In their post-season meeting against Morton, the Lions began the game on the defensive as the highly-skilled Mustangs held possession for the first ten minutes.

LTHS senior forward Charlie Clarke was an island in Morton's third of the field, holding down long balls and clearances with little help to gain meaningful possession.

The Lions got settled in after the first 20 minutes, however, and threatened on some long throws from LTHS senior captain Eric Gradilla. As possession bounced back and forth between the Lions and Mustangs, fellow senior captain goalkeeper Matt Vear kept some deadly Morton free kicks out of the net.

The first half came to a close at a 0-0 tie with both teams playing very well defensively.

LTHS pressed the Mustangs hard early in the second half, and Gradilla fired a shot from 25 yards out that ricocheted off the crossbar. Possession continued to move back and forth in the midfield, and an attack from one team led right away to a counter from the opposing squad.

The first breakthrough of the match came in the 63rd minute from Clarke, who was able to slide the ball into the bottom corner of the net just past the outstretched hands of the Morton goalkeeper to give the Lions a 1-0 lead.

Moments later, Vear made a superb save for the Lions right away to preserve their one-goal lead.

A mere two minutes after the Lions' goal, Morton's potent attack found the top corner of the net on a bending free kick over the LTHS wall from 20 yards out to tie the game at 1-1.

With only a few minutes remaining in regulation, overtime looked probable. The Mustangs ended up on a breakaway in the 77th minute and snuck the ball just underneath Vear to take a 2-1 lead.  Although LTHS had some scoring opportunities in the closing minutes, Morton held on for a 2-1 victory.

Despite the loss, Gradilla felt satisfied with the Lions' performance.

"Coming off the win against OPRF, we had a lot of confidence," Gradilla said. "Unfortunately, some key calls didn't go our way. Overall, we played as well as we could have."

Labbato also put the loss perspective.

"We still had several chances in the final three minutes, but we ran out of time and couldn't find the equalizer," Labbato said. "I think we had a great season overall with our losses coming to some of the top teams in the state. Our players should be very proud of what we accomplished."

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