GENESEO — It felt like the boys’ soccer postseason started early at Geneseo on a chilly Tuesday night.
Rock Island, a top-seeded team in the 2A Galesburg Sectional Complex, needed 2OT to extend its unbeaten streak to 11 games with a 1-0 win over the Maple Leafs, seeded second as 2A regional hosts in two weeks.
The Rocky win sets up a winner-take-all conference match against Quincy next week in Rock Island.
With a lockdown defense, Rocky and backup keeper Michael Machuca shut out the Maple Leafs (10-5-1, 3-3-1 Big 6) as Isaac Almanza drilled a direct kick score in the first overtime.
Almanza said the Rocks (11-1-1, 6-0 Big 6) have grown confident in similar situations. They beat Moline 1-0 in 2OT in Week 2 and tied Dixon 1-1 over the weekend.
Almanza, who lined up with Ceu Bik to take the deciding shot, ultimately fired the direct kick following a Geneseo foul just outside the box in the 85th minute. He drilled a shot that deflected off a defender on the way to the back of the net.
“I was just trying to go low and hard,” Almanza said. “The ground is slick and the ball skips on wet grass. Just hoped for the best and it went in.”
The senior captain said games like these are prepared for in July conditioning.
“Coach (Almanza) put us through two-a-days, and we’re just mentally and physically prepared for these situations,” Almanza said. “This game was very important in conference, and now we’re just focused for Quincy on Tuesday.”
Machuca only had to make one real save for Rock Island, which was without regular starter Ben Samuelson, who had to sit out after getting a red card early in the tie against Dixon.
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“The defense had to come through,” said coach Almanza. “I knew they were going to play that overhead ball through the middle quite a bit, so the main objective was to just win the ball out of the air all the time.”
Machuca played well outside of the goal corralling loose balls, despite making just one save.
“I’m super proud of him and the defense,” coach Almanza said.
Geneseo had an impressive return from keeper Zach Bauer, who played his first game after missing almost a month following the United Township game Sept. 3. He was cleared Monday and made eight saves, but the direct kick ricochet ultimately was the difference. The Maple Leafs were also without senior defender Ryan Morgan, who was injured in practice.
Geneseo senior defender Logan Loitz was whistled for his second yellow card following the foul that set up the direct kick. The resulting red card will force him to sit against LaSalle-Peru.
Geneseo coach Harvey Morton said the playoff atmosphere between two good teams was a good test as the regular season winds down, despite the loss.
“It’s unfortunate, but it happens,” Morton said of the deflected goal. “Offensively, we didn’t create what we wanted to.”
Following Quincy’s 13-0 win over Alleman, the Rocks will get their shot at the outright conference title at home against the defending champs.
“It’s going to be a game to watch,” Almanza said.