GILMAN — Manteno secured its third regional championship plaque in the last five seasons with a dominant performance against the host Raiders in Gilman at the Class 1A Iroquois West Regional final on Saturday by pitching a 4-0 shutout.
The Panthers struck first with a pair of goals in quick succession in the first half from sophomores Scott Eldridge and Drew St. Aubin, then employed excellent midfield defense to neutralize Iroquois West’s home-field advantage and deliver the shutout.
“It means a lot (to win a regional title). Especially with this group — it’s a young group with a lot of sophomores out there and three of our goals were scored by two sophomores and a junior,” said Manteno head coach Justin Emerson. “With a young group, it means a lot because it shows that they didn’t want to be complacent. They want to go out every single game and live up to the tradition that we’ve had here and they’ve been brilliant in this regional and it showed all over the field today.
“In any game, in any sport, if you come out and put the pressure on early, then good things happen. We’ve done that over the past couple of games,” he added. “Once you can put a team on their heels a little bit, you can dictate the pace of play.”
The Panthers did just that throughout the rest of its championship victory. The Raiders’ usually dangerous offense was rendered completely ineffective from horn to horn and prolific scorers like Diego Camarena and Angel Barajas were prevented from doing so much as lining up shots, let alone scoring goals.
“Our gameplan today worked absolutely perfectly. We got up on them early, we were able to dominate the middle of the field and they didn’t really have any good looks for the rest of the day,” Emerson said. “Even at 4-0 with 10 minutes left, I still wasn’t super secure with this thing yet because (Iroquois West) can really come after you. But I just have to give massive credit to my middle three players, Drew (St. Aubin), AJ (Gilliam) and Alec (Miller) for just dominating the middle of the field and stopping the other team from being able to create their own pace and deploy those scorers that they have.”
It was a disappointing loss for the Raiders, especially with it coming as the regional’s host on their own home pitch. It is the fourth consecutive season in which Iroquois West has lost in a regional championship to either Manteno or Herscher, and this season marks the departure of one of the most prolific scorers in the school’s — if not the area’s — history in Camarena.
“The first goal wasn’t the one that did it, it was the second one that kind of took us down. We tried to fight through it, but we just couldn’t get the ball through. Their defense held up extremely well,” Raiders coach Rich Alvarez said following the loss. “I’m happy with the season. We’re upset with the way it ended up, that’s four years straight we’ve lost in a regional championship and we just can’t get over that last hill, but my seniors put in a lot of work over these last four years and their record shows that they’ve accomplished a lot.”
Iroquois West’s season ended with a 19-7-1 record.
The victory advanced Manteno along to the Class 1A Reed-Custer Sectional where they’ll square off with Joliet Catholic on Tuesday in Braidwood. If they can advance past JCA, they’ll have a familiar foe waiting for them in the sectional title game, since the other sectional semi features both of the Panthers’ most heated rivals, Herscher and Peotone.
“We’ll obviously look at who we’re going to play and maybe make an adjustment here or there, but at this point in the season, you just have to do what got you to this point,” Emerson said. “We’re here for a reason and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to focus on good possession in the middle of the field, finishing opportunities up front and being solid in the back. That’s what we’re going to continue to do and we’ll see how it goes.”