TINLEY PARK | Thornton Co-op sophomore Ricardo Estrada wasn't going to let this game be the end of the line for the Wildcats.
With 5:53 remaining in overtime, Estrada took over the game and broke a 2-2 tie after driving a shot through the hands of Marist goalkeeper Noah Kemp.
Estrada displayed some fancy footwork bringing the ball up field between numerous Marist defenders before finally letting loose the shot. The goal would stand up during the final six minutes of OT, and the Wildcats advanced at the 3A Andrew Sectional semis with a 3-2 win over Marist.
"If I had a shot I was going to take it," Estrada said. "It's all about working hard and chemistry, and we came out successful in the end."
The Wildcats showed resilience all evening by battling back after twice falling behind in the match. After the Redhawks took a 1-0 lead into halftime, Thornton Co-op's Emmanuel Zambrano tied the match just 6:40 into the second half. Zambrano took a touch pass from Estrada to even the game at one.
"We weren't giving up," Estrada said. "Coach kept telling us that the game wasn't over, and it wasn't. As you can see, every goal, we came back, and in extra time we were lucky enough to get another goal."
After Marist again took the lead, Thornton's Emmanuel Barjebo drove past the Redhawk defense and sent a shot into the right corner of the net to knot the game at two. The Wildcats (19-2) then battled Marist to a stalemate until Estrada's overtime heroics. Wildcat keeper Eduardo Vargas finished the game with nine saves, including two huge stops off of free kicks after Estrada had given the Wildcats the late overtime lead.
"I just had to step it up," Vargas said. "My teammates have done a lot of work this whole season, and I haven't had too much work, so it was pretty nice having a big role at the end there. Thornton hasn't had a lot of success in the past few years, so it's nice to finally be on top for a change."
Thornton Co-op will move on to face the winner of Sandburg/Lincoln-Way East match on Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at Andrew High School.
"Everybody wants it the same, so you can't say who wants it more at this point," Wildcats coach David Gonzalez said. "(Estrada) took it upon himself at that point, and you could tell right away that it was just him and the goal, and that was it."