The battles between the Lyons Township and Morton High School boys soccer teams over the last decade have never lacked for drama.
The two sides have met nine times in the past nine years, including six times in the playoffs, and all of them have been decided by one goal. The latest came Friday in the Class 3A Hinsdale South Sectional final and second-seeded Morton emerged with a 1-0 win over the fourth-seeded Lions.
Edgar Garcia scored on a 19-yard shot with 14:08 left in the first half and Morton’s tough defense made it stand up.
“They’re much better than advertised and they’re advertised as very good,” LTHS coach Paul Labbato said. “We saw first-hand right in front of us how good they actually are. They defend maybe some of the best defending that I’ve seen out of any high school team in a long time.”
The Mustangs (26-2), who have 20 shutouts, were able to hold off a potent LTHS attack by somehow shutting down leading scorer Matt Murphy (21 goals) and playmaker Frankie Kocimski.
Kocimski barely missed scoring twice for the Lions (17-3-3). Eight minutes before Garcia’s goal, he broke free in the Morton box only to see his point-blank shot rejected by Mustangs goalie Ian Chacon.
“I got through,” Kocimski said. “I thought I had it. I looked up and unfortunately he grabbed it.
“When you get a team that plays 28 games together and wins 26 of them there’s going to be that chemistry and to have that experience in the back, that builds up all that confidence. They’re smart and we just couldn’t get one past them today.”
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Kocimski nearly tied it with 28:45 left in the second half but saw his cross from the right corner hit the outside of the right post.
“It’s a game of inches, unfortunately, and I couldn’t sneak it by,” Kocimski said. “It kind of reflected the rest of the game. It was just bad luck.”
The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Lions, who had been shut out just once before this season. That was a 3-0 loss Sept. 28 to rival Hinsdale Central, which LTHS avenged by upsetting the previously unbeaten Red Devils 2-1 in the sectional semifinals.
Murphy and Kocimski scored the goals in that game for the Lions, who outscored their opponents 39-3 during the winning streak. Though disappointed with the loss, the two seniors had nothing to be ashamed of.
“Knocking off Hinsdale Central, coming off with a record of 17-3-3, it’s not a bad season,” Kocimski said. “We got a regional championship under our belt. I know the underclassmen on the team are going to take this to the next season and definitely have a good one next year.”
While the Lions were unable to replicate the state championship they won in 2009, they have compiled a 72-14-9 record in the four seasons since then. The senior class, which also included goalies Peter Nolan and Nick Jumic, defenders Emilio Godinez, Peter Kass, Joe Lupano and Dustin Warf, midfielders Michael Andrews and Sam Contreras and forwards Kevin Kokaska, Pearman Clarke and Spiro Kass, had a big role in that.
“What great seniors and the leadership they put together,” Labbato said. “We played all comers and as many good teams as we possibly could and they put together another stellar record.
“They’re very successful over a course of four years in our program and they showed a lot of class tonight. They worked really hard right until the last moment.”