Michael Nowicki knows how to pick his spots. He also knows teams are going to mark Fenwick star Jack Alberts.
The senior Fenwick midfielder smashed in a ball from about 12 yards out on a beautiful feed from senior midfielder Dylan Kramer the Friars rode to the dramatic 1-0 victory over Benet in the Argo Class 3A Sectional semifinal Tuesday night in Summit.
The Friars (15-6-1) advance to meet Hinsdale Central, a 2-1 winner of Oak Park-River Forest, for the sectional final on Friday at 6 p.m.
It was Nowicki’s seventh goal of the year. “I’m getting hot at the right time,” he said, alluding to his other key goal in the team’s upset of Lyons on Saturday.
“Jack Alberts was always shooting from outside, and he draws a lot of people, and when he shot it, I went straight to the goal, and sure enough, it was right there and I kicked it in,” Nowicki said.
The emotional momentum was crucial. The body language told the story. The Friars were loose and composed. The Redwings were all jangly nerves and nervous desperation.
Even though the Redwings (18-4-1), the East Suburban Catholic champions, dominated possession time and shots on goal, Catholic League co-champion Fenwick stymied them for the final 72 minutes to pull out the victory. It was their second straight victory over a higher-seeded opponent.
In the defensive-oriented state tournament, the key is getting up early, Fenwick coach Robert Watson said. “In these one-game knockout momentum games, it’s imperative that you get up early,” he said. “It’s much easier to play from ahead than behind. You get the sense now, all of these games are always one-goal games, always hard fought and well contested.
“We stressed coming out hard and getting ahead because we are well aware of how good our defense and our keeper are.”
Sure enough, the other dominant part of the Friars’ victory was the spectacular play of senior keeper Jacob Peterson. The tall and rangy 6-3 keeper recorded seven saves in notching his eighth shutout of the year.
In the most dramatic play, in the 59th minute, Peterson broke free of the box and scampered some 15 to 20 yards outside to stop Benet star Brad Bozych on a breakway. “I will say it was a little bit of luck that went into play,” Peterson said. “Brad Bozych is a quality player and he came up on me, and I just realized I had to get up in front of him.”
Benet put Peterson on his heels for much of the second half, but he responded in kind. “I think one thing is they are probably not used to a bigger keeper coming out to those high balls,” he said. “I deflected five or six crosses in the game.”
Now the Friars ride the momentum against West Suburban Silver powerhouse Hinsdale Central, winner of 18 of their last 20 games.
“We’ve been telling ourselves, ‘We don’t have to beat these teams three times, just one time,’ so let’s just concentrate on doing whatever it takes to beat them one time,” Nowicki said. “Our mentality is just to work harder than the other team, because clearly, we’re not as skilled as some of them, but hard work is going to get us there.”