St. Viator has been angling for a boys Class A soccer state championship since the IHSA split into two classes in 1997, but the perennial powerhouse had always come away empty. Saturday was the title that didn't get away.
Steve Zaleski gave St. Viator the only goal it needed with 33:33 left in the first half. The senior passed the ball to the right side to classmate and cousin Frankie Callero, who advanced the ball and returned it in front.
"It's the best feeling right now," Zaleski said after the 1-0 title-game victory over Carbondale. "We (the 15 seniors on the team) realized it was the last 80 minutes of our high school careers and just gave it everything we had."
St. Viator applied steady pressure from the outset and was the aggressor for most of the match. Coach Mike Taylor wished they could have played all night.
"I don't want it to end," said Taylor, who got a water-cooler baptism from his players after the game. "That's a group of kids that I will be close to for the rest of my life. And I've been close with a lot of my kids, but this group is tight."
Carbondale (25-4) displayed little offense throughout the match, but the Terriers almost took a bite out of the Lions with 20 seconds remaining. Vince Sadowski's header from in front went just over the crossbar and outstretched hands of goalkeeper Konrad Karasek, who recorded his 19th shutout of the season.
In its 2-1 semifinal victory Saturday afternoon, St. Viator (22-2-4) made Peoria Notre Dame's forwards marked men. The Lions kept tabs on Irish star forwards Nick Cicciarelli and Nick Mentgen with Ray Krawzak and Mike Lamberta.
Despite the shadowing, Mentgen scored his 24th goal of the season to halve St. Viator's lead with 19:57 left in regulation.
The Lions' defense came up big numerous times in Notre Dame's furious effort to tie the game. Sweeper T.J. King made a one-on-one stop of Mentgen in front with goalie Karasek out of the net in the 63rd minute. Among Karasek's eight saves was a diving stop on a Mentgen header in the 75th minute.
Mike Cavers was the Lions' star on offense. He recorded the only first-half tally with a header off a Zaleski throw-in 14:26 into the match. In the second half, Cavers made a perfect corner kick to the right post, which Callero headed in with 30:49 left.