Rodriguez returns, Larkin advances to regional finalLarkin's Tony Escamilla (9) works up the middle of the field during the first half at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles, Ill., on Tuesday, October 18, 2011.
| Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
Updated: October 18, 2011 10:27PM
Larkin’s Erik Rodriguez may have made one wrong decision, but he made all the right ones Tuesday when St. Charles East Class 3A Regional play began.
Returning from his six-game suspension for playing what he called an illegal “pick-up” game, the Royals’ junior forward picked up right where he left off. He made a perfect assist on teammate Tony Escamilla’s first-half goal, then scored his 20th goal of the year unassisted in the second half to give the Royals a 2-0 victory that put them in Saturday’s 5 p.m. finale against Bartlett.
“He scores a lot of goals, but leads the team in assists, also,” Larkin coach Ken Hall said. “He’s a complete player. It’s rare that he makes the wrong decision.
“Getting him back for us was all the difference in the world.”
Larkin had lost 3-2 to St. Charles East last week in Upstate Eight River play without Rodriguez, who was penalized for playing what he called an officiated “pick-up game ... with some friends.” It was deemed a competition not allowable during the season by IHSA rules and he sat out the six preceding matches, a decision he called, “a fair ruling.
“At least I get to play in the playoffs. I knew it was wrong and I got my consequences.”
It took Rodriguez little time to get back in form. He got the ball left of the goal area and bided his time as St. Charles East goalie Mike Novotny had gotten out of position.
Then he fed it across the goal mouth to Escamilla, a junior forward, who had a wide-open net and chipped it in.
Rodriguez’s goal came off the left wing with 25:31 left to play. He dribbled down the sideline and beat a defender to drill a 25-yard shot to the high right corner of the net in a spot Novotny couldn’t reach.
The difference for Larkin (14-6-4) over its earlier loss to the Saints (6-10-1) may have been Rodriguez, but their style of play also changed.
They went with a different formation without Rodriguez and returned to their normal attack. Also, Rodriguez said, “Our attitudes were different. Last week it seemed like St. Charles East won every 50-50 ball. They were being physical and we weren’t.
“Tonight was different. Our center mids were playing great and we played physical.”
Larkin goalie Santiago Guerrero had to make 12 saves as the Saints refused to go quietly. A matter of inches cost them three goals, including a second-half free kick by Luke Cooper that just cleared the crossbar.
“To walk out losing 2-nil after playing our absolute best is heartbreaking,” Saints coach Paul Jennison said.
The near misses summed up the Saints’ season.
“That seems to be the way quite a lot of our games have gone this year,” Jennison said. “They left everything on the field. It was the best group of seniors I’ve had. I thought they were phenomenal grit leaders.”