Lyons Township muscles its way into tourney championship

Freshman McGuiness scores game winner

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By JOE TROST

If Las Vegas were placing odds on which two teams would advance to the Pepsi Showdown title game at Toyota Park, chances are Lyons would not have been a 2-to-1 favorite.

But that's why the games are played on the field and not on paper.

The Lions continued to prove their doubters wrong on Saturday with a thrilling 3-2 semifinal victory over Wheaton Warrenville South in front of a capacity crowd at Lyons Soccer Complex in LaGrange.

Freshman Billy McGuinness' goal with 1:44 left in the second overtime propelled Lyons into this Saturday's 3 p.m. title game at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The goal was a first for McGuinness at the high school level.

"It's definitely a goal I will never forget," McGuinness said. "I just knocked the ball down, took control of it and knocked it in."

That goal also ended the Tigers' 13-game unbeaten streak in the Pepsi Showdown, which dated back to Sept. 2004. Wheaton South, which knocked off Lyons in the 2005 semifinals, had won back-to-back titles.

Up next for upset-minded Lyons (5-3) is No. 3 seed Warren (10-0), a 1-0 winner over No. 2 seed New Trier (7-2) in the other semifinal. The No. 12 seeded Lions have knocked off No. 5 seed Lincoln-Way Central, No. 4 seed Lake Zurich and No. 1 seed Wheaton South to reach this point.

"When I woke up on Sunday, I still couldn't believe we advanced to this point and that we are going to be playing at Toyota Park," said Lyons coach Alex Hernandez, whose team was featured on ESPN2 this past Sunday. "These kids have worked hard and we're enjoying this moment. Everyone at the school is really excited."

Hernandez's squad actually raced out to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Mike Schreiber.

But the Tigers, who played a man up after the Lions received a red card midway through the second half, tied the game at 2 on Jonathan Burns' goal with less than five minutes to play in regulation.

"Honestly, I thought we were in trouble at that point," Hernandez said. "But the kids battled and never gave in."

That led to McGuinness' heroics.

"When the ball came in the box, it seemed like slow motion,' McGuinness said. 'I tripped over the ball at first, but luckily there wasn't anyone right there (from Wheaton South) to clear it out. That gave me a chance to get a shot off."

Ironically, the Lions are 8-1 in their last nine Pepsi Showdown games against some of the top teams from the Chicagoland area. But outside of its four tournament wins this year, Lyons is just 1-2.

"We graduated a lot of seniors and a lot of good players," Hernandez said. "So it took some time for the kids to get used to playing with one another. We're improving each game."

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