It was hard for Zach Michels to explain exactly what he was feeling after Hinckley-Big Rock defeated Cristo Rey Jesuit, 4-0, on Tuesday.
The win put the Royals (22-4) into the state semifinals for the first time since 2003. It’s what has driven the team since an overtime loss in the super-sectionals last season.
“I don’t think many people thought we could make it that far last year,” Michels said. “This year people expected us to go even farther. That one step was to go to state.”
And so H-BR hopped on a bus Thursday morning, taking the trip to the state tournament for only the fifth time in program history. The Royals will face Alton Marquette (18-6-1) in the semifinals at 5 p.m. today in Normal.
Two weeks ago the Royals’ dreams of a berth in the state tournament weren’t so much a certainty rather than just a possibility. Coming off a second loss to Somonauk in the Little Ten Conference tournament, H-BR was projected to face its conference rival once again in the regional finals.
“We knew that we were a better team than we showed against [Somonauk],” senior Billy Weissinger said. “Afterwards, and as the next week progressed, we gained more confidence knowing that we didn’t play near our full potential.”
The result when H-BR faced Somonauk for the third time: a 2-0 victory and a second straight regional championship.
The Royals cruised past Princeton, 7-1, and then edged conference rival Earlville, 1-0, in a sectional final.
H-BR wanted a super-sectional rematch with Lisle, the same team that knocked it out of the playoffs in 2011. But it wasn’t to be. Instead the Royals got Cristo Rey Jesuit, a squad that hadn’t lost in its past 19 contests. The Royals’ four-goal victory was the largest margin of the four super-sectional match this year.
“I’m pretty sure almost everybody on our team was surprised by how much we won by because we heard so much about Cristo Rey and how they are one of the top teams in the state,” Weissinger said. “That gave us a lot of confidence that we could stand with any team in the state.”
H-BR left for Normal a day early to get in a practice Thursday and acclimate to playing at the Corn Crib, a multi-purpose facility that seats 7,000 people. It’s a stark contrast to the Royals’ home pitch in Hinckley, but Michels expects a large contingent of H-BR fans to watch them play this afternoon.
And, just maybe, they’ll see H-BR get a chance to play for its first state championship in program history.
“We don’t want to lose the first game and then play for third and fourth (place),” Michels said. “We’re going in the first game confident and going to try and win that game and get a state championship. That’s what the whole team wants.”
ABOUT ALTON MARQUETTE
Coach: Jeremy Sanfilippo, second season
Last state tournament appearance: First in school history
2011 result: Lost to Edwardsville (Metro-East Lutheran), 2-0, in regional final.
Players to watch: Nick Korte (14 goals, 6 assists), Matt Hampton (13 goals, 12 assists), Zach Horn (310 saves, 0.96 goals against average)
Key stats: Alton Marquette enters on a 10-match winning streak after rebounding from a 3-5-1 start. The Explorers have recorded 13 shutouts and limited opponents to a goal or less in 18 of 25 matches this season.