A night that started with some frustrations ended in elation for the Bishop Heelan High School boys’ soccer team.
Through the first 32 minutes of play, the Crusaders created scoring opportunities in their Class 2A Substate 1 final against Sioux Center but either missed their target in any -- and all -- directions, or the Warriors’ goaltender Kyle TeStroete was able to keep the ball out of the net.
But Heelan broke through in the 33rd minute when Jesse Castillo won possession in front of the Sioux Center net and beat TeStroete to score his first varsity goal at the most opportune time.
Third-ranked Heelan would get an insurance goal in the 77th minute by junior Alejandro Gonzalez and earn a spot at the state tournament with a 2-0 win at Memorial Field on Wednesday night over No. 15 Sioux Center in a matchup between the top two seeds in the bracket.
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“I honestly couldn’t believe the ball went in,” Castillo said of his score in the closing minutes of the first half. “We made it. It’s exciting. We’ve grown a lot as a team. We’re going (to state) to win the whole thing.
“This has been the expectation since the beginning of the year. This says that we’re a team that can do anything we put our mind to.”
The state tournament starts on Tuesday, May 30, at Cownie Soccer Complex in Des Moines. Heelan will be the No. 2 seed at state and play seventh-seeded Center Point-Urbana at 1:30 p.m. on Field 6 in the quarterfinals.
“It just feels so surreal,” said senior Alejandro Suarez. “This has been the goal from the start. It just feels great. We knew we wanted this, and all those hard practices and workouts paid off.
“I’ve been waiting for this since my freshman year.”
It’s Heelan’s first state berth since 2016.
“It seems like we’ve been going to state in most sports we play,” Gonzalez said. “But we wanted to make sure that people knew Heelan is also a soccer school.”
Heelan (13-2) took nine shots and put four on goal before getting the Castillo score.
Sioux Center (9-5) withstood the early onslaught but couldn’t keep fending off the shot attempts as Crusaders’ head coach Pat Herbst kept pushing his team to keep the pressure on.
“(Sioux Center) didn’t make it easy on us, but our guys have been resilient all season, and tonight was no different,” Herbst said. “It’s the mentality we’ve been preaching to them all season. We’re better off when we’re offensive. Our defense is very good, but we’re at our best when we’re at our best when we control the ball.”
Heelan’s first few attempts came on set pieces.
Within the first 10 minutes of the contest, the Crusaders nearly scored on a header off a corner kick and had a free kick from just outside the box sail high.
Just over halfway through the first half, Heelan senior midfielder Alejandro Suarez put a rocket off the crossbar.
TeStroete, a sophomore, made four saves in the first half and one in the second. On the other end, Heelan sophomore goalie Landon Block kept the clean sheet by making three saves, all in the first half.
“We just had to stay focused,” Block said. “I just needed to keep the ball out of the net and keep talking to my defenders, lots of communication.”
While the Crusaders spent considerable time in and around the Warriors’ box early on, the shot attempts dried up in the second half until Gonzalez broke free with the ball and made a nice run at the goal for his score.
“I was just thinking that (my coaches) were telling me I was going to get one,” Gonzalez said. “I like to dribble the ball in and score. I was just so excited because the whole team has been working so hard for this. We’ve had injuries and struggles, but our job’s not finished.
“We knew we had the team to do it. We just had to keep our composure and keep fighting for every ball.”
The junior midfielder dribbled down the middle of the field and made a move to his left to create more space, then when a Sioux Center defender made a last-ditch effort to poke the ball away, he juked back to the middle and snuck a shot past TeStroete inside the near post.
Castillo got the scoring started when he found himself in the right place at the right time as Heelan crashed toward the Sioux Center goal. The ball ricocheted around and landed in the perfect spot for the junior to take a couple of dribbles and fire a shot into the back of the net.
“None of these guys have any clue what this is all about, but we’ve had the belief and attitude that this was expected,” said Herbst.
The Heelan and Sioux Center girls’ teams play at Memorial Field on Thursday night, with the winner getting a spot in the Class 1A state tournament.