PALOS HILLS | The wind played a major factor in Saturday's Class 3A Stagg Regional championsihp, and Thornton Co-op was able to use it more effectively when given its first-half chances.
The Wildcats used two goals before halftime to win 2-1 over Thornton Fractional.
Emmanuel Barjebo and Ricardo Estrada each scored for the Wildcats in the win. The United were able to cut the lead in half midway through the second half, but Thornton Co-op held on for the victory.
"The air had plenty of effect on where the ball was going," Estrada said. "Thank God that it didn't cost us the game in the second half."
Both teams had to contend with a consistent wind blowing toward the south goal, and all three goals came on the southern end of the field. Barjebo opened the scoring in the 14th minute when he penetrated past the United defense and fired a shot that found the corner of the net.
"When the ball came to me, I already knew what to do with it," Barjebo said. "I tried to distract the goalkeeper to come out; that's what he did, and I put it on the other side of the goal."
The Wildcats (18-2) then opened up a two goal lead on Estrada's goal with 8:25 remaining in the first half. Diego Leon put a shot on the United goal and after a deflected save, Estrada was there to put it home.
"I would have loved to take this home pretty, playing some beautiful soccer," Wildcats coach David Gonzalez said. "But I'll take it any way I can right now at this point."
Trailing by two, the United (16-7-1) came out with renewed energy in the second half and forced the action at the Thornton end of the field. Senior Ray Kobus finally connected for the United 15 minutes into the second half to cut the Wildcats' lead in half. Kobus' goal came on a free kick well outside the box. He was able to bend it into the left corner and past the Thornton keeper.
"It seemed like finally in the second half we were a little more relaxed," United coach Alejandro Lagunas said. "Obviously, the wind was at our backs, and that was a huge advantage for us. It was easier to get the ball up the field."
Despite plenty of chances down the stretch, the United were unable to find the equalizing goal, and the Wildcats held on for the win. Thornton Co-op keeper Eduardo Vargas finished the match with seven saves.
The Wildcats move on to the 3A Andrew Sectional , where they will face Marist at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.