By James Kay
After pushing their way to the semifinals at the Pepsico Showdown Series, Lyons Township's varsity soccer team's run at the championship ended in a 4-2 loss to Morton High School on Sept. 21 in Joliet.
Going into the tournament, LTHS was the No. 4 seed, and had taken care of business against Solario on Sept. 14 and Bradley-Bourbonnais on Sept. 17.
"We had a lot of opportunities to score, but like the No. 1 team does, they came back and responded," said LTHS head coach Paul Labbato. "We came into this game thinking we could play with [Morton], and we are going to leave this place thinking we are as good as them and that on a different day maybe the result might be different."
Both teams engaged each other in a physical match that featured periodic rain, an unlevel field, and blatant attempts of flopping from Morton. Both teams struggled to get shots on goal through the hallway point in the first half at the Inwood Soccer Complex.
The collective scoring drought ended when Morton split the LTHS defense on the left sideline. Lions goalie Bradley De Boer deflected Morton's first shot, fell down, and forward Edwin Zizumbo finished off the play with a shot into the open net.
LTHS started its comeback effort after captain Jake Fraser beat two defenders, and worked his way down the sideline. While attempting to cross the ball to the middle of the box, he was shouldered by the two Morton defenders drawing a penalty that Nick Novak slotted into the left bottom corner to tie the match at 1-1.
Controversy arose when Morton, who had vehemently complained to the referees about the previous penalty called on them, received a penalty kick of their own a minute after Novak's goal.
Labbato, infuriated with the result of the play, tried to seek an explanation from the referees about their decision as the halftime whistle blew.
"I just tried to get some clarification on the penalty kick," said Labbato about his halftime meeting with the refs. "It was a big moment and a big call since that penalty kick gave them a lead going into the second half. That changed the momentum, but we really showed our heart and came back to get the momentum."
After Morton scored the penalty, the score was 2-1 heading into halftime.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half, it seemed like LTHS had taken back some of the momentum they had lost in the last few minutes of the first half. They opened the half with multiple shots on goal that Morton's defense was barely able to fend off.
That changed when Morton was called for another foul just a few feet outside of the box. Morton set up a wall of defenders but Lyons' forward, Jake Luttrell, scored off a deflection from Morton's goalie to tie the match up at 2-2.
Morton went into attack mode after Luttrell's goal and was able to provide heavy offensive pressure the rest of the match. After LTHS' Cesear Nieves had the ball stolen from him, Morton's Juan Hernandez crossed the ball to teammate Cristian Perez for the third goal of the match for Morton. Down 3-2, the Lions shifted their formation upfield to go for the tie, but it ended up leaving them vulnerable for Zizumbo's third goal with a few minutes left to play in the match.
"It goes to show what we can do against the No. 1 team like Morton," said Fraser after the match. "I felt like we held in there, but we just couldn't put the ball in the back of the net. It's a disappointing ending but they earned it."
Lyons Township will look to bounce back after the tournament loss when they visit Proviso West for a West Suburban Silver conference on Sept. 24 at 4:30 p.m.