Griffin Counts and St. Charles East needed no reminders of the stakes in front of them.
Entering Tuesday’s match against the Saints, Geneva was the lone undefeated team in the DuKane Conference at four wins, no losses and a tie. A win would’ve put them pretty firmly in the driver’s seat with two conference games remaining. A loss or tie would muddy the waters as the regular season draws to a close next week.
The Saints knew a message needed to be sent, and delivered one with a 3-0 shutout at Burgess Field.
“This was a huge game for us, and this was basically conference right here. If we lost this or tied, we [wouldn’t likely] get conference, so this was huge. Coming into the game, everyone wanted it, and coming out of it, such a good feeling,” Counts said.
“We knew where it was with [St. Charles North] losing to Glenbard North,” Saints coach Vince DiNuzzo said, “so the kids knew with [Geneva] not having a loss, if we lost this one, it wouldn’t give us a chance to win the conference, which is something we always try to do.”
Despite some solid offensive pressure by Geneva (10-5-2, 4-1-1) in the first 10 minutes of the contest, St. Charles East (13-6, 4-1) was the one to convert their chances.
Saints senior Brandon Pinto, on an assist from Counts, put them up 1-0 with 23:15 left in the first half. Counts then followed with an unassisted strike for an insurance goal and the 2-0 lead. Conor Sychowski put the icing on the win with a gorgeous finish from a nice assist by Kevin Sanchez with 12:47 left in the game.
Sychowski and Pinto scored their first goals of the season.
“I’ve been looking for a goal all season. I’ve been wanting to take a strike in the final third. I looked up, saw the goal was open, and I ripped it,” Sychowski said.
Being 4-5 in games decided by one goal, the Saints have focused on finishing their scoring chances with more consistency.
“We’ve been thriving for this,” Counts said. “After our [1-0 loss to South Elgin on Sept. 23], the captains took all the kids to the corner and talked for 30 minutes about what needed to change. We made a change.
“We went to Iowa this weekend [for a tournament] and came back 2-1. We’ve been wanting this, so it feels great.”
The Saints have won their third shutout in a row and are seeing the team come together for a stretch run.
“It’s always why we go down there [to Iowa], and we continue doing it because it just brings us together,” DiNuzzo said. “Playing for St. Charles East with the history the program has, it’s very stressful for the kids. We’re always focused on the top four [postseason] seeds, so getting that out of the way, getting out there and playing different competition kind of resets the engine, so hopefully [we’re ready to go].”
Geneva has St. Charles North and Wheaton Warrenville South left as conference opponents to close the regular season.
“They took their chances,” Vikings coach Jason Bhatta said. “I felt like we gave up a couple clear ones, but the ones they scored on, [we] probably should’ve dealt with — two 30-yard shots and a clearance we should’ve dealt with. We weren’t sharp enough. Boys weren’t ready to play.
“[We’ve] still got plenty to play for. Conference is still in the air. We need to take care of business on Monday against SCN and see if results go our way. But, yeah, tough one tonight, especially at home.”