By Steve Millar
The way Mount Carmel is playing defense in the postseason, senior Axel Gongora and his teammates go into each game confident they’ll be able to shut down the opposition.
“We haven’t allowed a goal yet in the playoffs, so it’s been a great job by the whole team,” Gongora said after the Caravan’s 1-0 win over Sandburg in a Class 3A Sandburg Sectional semifinal. “Our chemistry in the back is great and having Sergio (Valencia) in goal is huge.”
Mount Carmel recorded its third consecutive playoff shutout and got a clutch goal from sophomore Daniel Favela to edge the host Eagles on Oct. 24.
The Caravan (18-4-2) followed that blanking with another, as they defeated Thornton co-op, 2-0, to win the sectional crown on Oct. 26.
“We have a lot of leadership in the back,” Mount Carmel coach Antonio Godinez said. “Sergio is a great leader in the goal, Axel is another senior who does a great job, and
(Giovanni Peat) is a leader back there as well. All the guys are doing a tremendous job.”
Sandburg (13-6-2) also had a defense that was tough to crack, but the Caravan got the only goal it needed 20 seconds into the second half.
Junior Damian Rincon got the ball for Mount Carmel just after the second-half kickoff and played a quick pass to Favela, who fired from 25 yards out and tucked a shot inside the left post.
“We usually play the ball back on kickoffs and try to build our possession,” Favela said. “This time, we just wanted to be aggressive.
“Damian and I have played together a lot and we play off each other well. I just went to the open space and he knew where to get me the ball. I saw the open shot and I just took it.”
Favela felt the Caravan caught Sandburg off guard with their aggression to start the half.
“I don’t think they expected us to attack like that,” he said. “(Godinez) told us to come out and be aggressive right away, take some more shots.”
Favela has had a knack for coming through in the postseason. He also scored in last season’s sectional semifinal win over Reavis, and produced a double-overtime goal against Lincoln-Way East in a 2017 regional semifinal, his first career postseason game.
“Daniel loves playing in big games,” Godinez said. “He stepped up big for us again.”
Valencia made four saves to record the shutout.
Sandburg’s best offensive chances came over the final 15 minutes.
With 12:30 to go, Adam Azhari played a nice pass to Colin Kroll, who unleashed a rocket of a shot from 20 yards. Valencia lunged to knock it away.
Yriyori Georgiou then set up Alex Atkinson for a good look near the goal, but Valencia came up with another big stop with seven minutes to go.
Connor Baker made nine saves for the Eagles.
Sandburg coach Desi Vuillaume was pleased with the way his team surged late in the game.
“We generated a lot of opportunities at the end,” Vuillaume said. “I’ve got to hand it to our guys because it’s easy to give up at that point, but we didn’t give up.
“We’re always going to fight tooth-and-nail and not go down easily. This was a well-fought game that could’ve gone either way.”
Sandburg’s season was highlighted by a second-place finish in the prestigious Best of the West Tournament, which included a huge win over Naperville Central.
The Eagles won a regional title for the second straight year.
“Coming in second in the Best of the West was a heck of an achievement,” Vuillaume said. “The way we played in the postseason was unbelievable. I told our guys there’s nothing to be ashamed about.”