HUNTLEY – For the first 45 minutes of Saturday's Class 3A Huntley Sectional final, McHenry's boys soccer team kept a quick Larkin team in check.
Packing it in defensively allowed the Warriors to contain the Royals and prevent them from exploiting open space. But five minutes into the second half, Larkin (12-10-4) finally got past McHenry's defense to break the scoreless tie. That was all the scoring the Royals needed as Larkin held on to beat McHenry, 1-0.
Larkin junior midfielder Hector Mendoza found sophomore forward Alex Cruz on a cross to the front of the net, which Cruz slipped past McHenry goalkeeper Frankie Valle with 34:16 remaining in the game.
"I could barely see that shot at the last second, and it went through my hand," said Valle, who finished with eight saves. "We just didn't didn't defend well. That one shot got [through] to them, and then we couldn't finish."
McHenry (13-9-3) struggled at times to connect its passes, limiting scoring opportunities. The Warriors registered their first shot on goal with 8:57 left in the game part of a 10-minute stretch to end the match when they pressured Larkin's defense.
"They're excellent; they play real good defense," Larkin coach Ken Hall said. " ... At this point you're not playing bad teams, they're all good. I give them a lot of credit. But we came through."
Perhaps McHenry's best chance at scoring the equalizer came with seven minutes remaining in regulation. A Warriors pass in front of the net eluded Larkin goalkeeper Aldair Dominguez (one save), but no one was close enough to the back post to punch the ball into the net.
"We knew they were going to be a more offensive team, so we knew if we could sink a couple early we'd be able to defend, but it just didn't go our way," McHenry senior Evan Hying said. "We did all we could. It's a tough one. We were pushing hard at the end to try and get one."
While the loss ends McHenry's season, Hying believes their success – particularly in the postseason – could be attributed to hard work and "putting everything out there every game." Warriors coach Tony Caruso said his team has no regrets despite the loss.
"We had some ups and downs, but we had the ups in the right spots," Caruso said of the season. "We had a lot of young guys getting experience out there and we should have a bright future. The seniors definitely led the way for us this year."