Boys Soccer: Daniel Szczepanek guides Warren over Sandburg, into 3A title game

Story Image Warren's Nick Haas (left) and Sandburg's Tom Nie battle for the ball during their state championship semi-final soccer game at Lincoln-Way North High School in Frankfort Square Friday, November 2, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Story Image

Updated: November 2, 2012 8:15PM

The set piece is the most feared weapon in soccer. Running it right takes practice and precision. Having somebody like Daniel Szczepanek is also ideal.

The star Warren midfielder played a part on the Blue Devils’ first two goals on beautiful set pieces the No. 2 Blue Devils utilized in grabbing a crucial early lead as they beat No.7 Sandburg 3-0 in a Class 3A state semifinal Friday night at Lincoln-Way North in Frankfort.

The Blue Devils (20-5-3) continued their smoldering state tournament run, now outscoring opponents 32-7 in their six tournament games. Warren advances to the Class 3A state championship game tomorrow against the winner of the second semifinal involving No. 1 Naperville Central and No. Stevenson.

Still burning from losing two games on penalty kicks a year ago in finishing fourth in Class 3A, Warren set the dominant tone with goals in the 23rd and 34th minute. “We’re still feeling that hurt from last year, and we don’t want to feel that again, so we’re trying to finish what we started,” Szczepanek said.

Warren has an almost unorthodox line-up. Two defenders scored for the Blue Devils. In the 23rd minute, Szczepanek initiated the set piece with his flip throw in. Senior defender Timmy Pieper headed the ball to 6-2 junior defender Karl Bappert. He directed the ball with a half scissor kick that slipped inside the post.

“It went behind the player and I stuck my leg out,” Bappert said. “Timmy and I work on that every day in practice, with him either heading the ball to me or the other way around.”

Szczepanek is the team’s catalyst. He recorded his 24th assist in the 34th minute by perfectly lofting a free kick that Pieper elevated and smashed with a header for the 2-0 lead at intermission.

“The keeper [Adam Zehme] was over six-feet tall [6-4], and he was grabbing some of [throw ins],” Szczepanek said. “We’ve been working on set pieces the whole year. We’ve got big tall defenders who go up and they can do things defensively. I just tried to put it in a good position and give us a chance to score.”

The Blue Devils’ goals decisively swung the momentum in their favor. Sandburg (18-6-3) dominated the first eight minutes though failed at the start.

“We were so nervous at the start, it’s the Final Four, and we just had to settle down,” Szczepanek said. “Once we got the first goal, everybody settled down.”

The Eagles lost their propulsive early kick.

“We played a good first 20 [minutes],” Sandburg forward Zack Biel said. Biel led the Eagles with 24 goals and 14 assists. He had a bicycle go wide right in the 8th minute, a symbol of the Eagles’ futility.

“After that first goal it was all downhill from there,” Biel said. “That first goal changed the whole momentum of the game.” With Warren’s unorthodox line up of five midfielders, the Blue Devils controlled possession time. Their quickness and speed in the open field put the Eagles at a major disadvantage.

“They hit it to the back, and that hurt us with the set pieces. We’ve done a good job the whole year marking people, but we made two marking mistakes in the first half and that was the game,” Biel said.

Warren senior midfielder Sean Kirwan put the game away with his sixth goal of the year 66th minute on an assist from Nick Wegrzynowicz.

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