GRANT PARK — Although it was tournament soccer, there was a slightly different feel in the air.
St. Anne has endured a roller coaster of emotions since its game Friday against Watseka, when freshman defender Pedro Pena suddenly collapsed on the sidelines and was rushed to the hospital during the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory against Watseka.
St. Anne lost 4-2 to Grant Park in Class 1A Regional soccer action with Pena’s health weighing on its mind. Pena still is recovering in the hospital in Chicago but is in good spirits, St. Anne coach Andy Stembridge said.
“Going through that situation on Friday was extremely scary for everybody, especially because of the unknown,” Stembridge said. “But since then, everyone has rallied around Pedro and each other, which is really cool to see from other small towns.”
St. Anne honored Pena by starting the game with just 10 players on the field, and St. Anne fans and players donned shirts saying “Play for Pedro.”
Since Friday, Stembridge said multiple teams and coaches have reached out to him and have expressed sympathy, as well as making contributions and donations to the team.
“Grant Park did a great job. Beecher raised some items and sent them to us, and some other schools have reached out as well and said they wanted to honor him during halftime. It’s been awesome to see the outpour of support from other soccer communities, and we couldn’t be more appreciative.”
Jon Goldenstern connected on the first goal of the contest to give Grant Park a quick 1-0 lead.
He wasn’t quite finished, though, as he found the back of the net again minutes later off an assist from Nolan Schneider to make it a 2-0 game with just more than 15 minutes left in the first half.
“[St. Anne’s] defense made some mistakes, and I just took advantage of it,” Goldenstern said.
But his teammates weren’t going to let him have all the fun. Logan Weissberger joined the fray with just less than a minute left and found the back of the back for a 3-0 halftime score.
“We played well,” Grant Park coach Jacqlyn West said. “We had some moments late where our defense lost its shape, but for the most part, we did things right. We moved, passed and stayed wide. We won about every 50-50 ball, and that was a big key for us.”
Hayden Lehnert put the final Dragon goal into the back of the net just minutes into the second half for a 4-0 lead.
Raul Guerrero came alive late with two goals for the Cardinals in the final 10 minutes of play, but it was just too little too late, as the Cardinals’ season came to a close.
“Looking back, this season was a roller coaster,” Stembridge said. “We had close games, blowouts and games we should have won. We pieced together a few wins to end the season and build some momentum towards playoffs. This was a fun team to be around, and we’re like family.”
Grant Park advances to a Class 1A regional final against the winner of today’s matchup between Bishop McNamara and Momence.
The championship will be played Friday at Grant Park, and it’s not exactly a secret who the Dragons want to face.
“We want Momence,” West said. “Nothing against Bishop McNamara at all. But Momence got one on us and won the conference championship. We want that rematch.”