NORMAL — University High School boys soccer coach Jeremy Stanton was taking delight in the accomplishments of a core group of Pioneer seniors who had just made another contribution to the school trophy case.
"These guys have four regional championships, they've got a state championship, an Intercity championship, the list goes on and on," Stanton said.
The fourth straight regional crown for seniors Christian Amble, Nathan Clay, J.D. Kelley, Cayden Redd and Mason Wittman came on Friday afternoon as the host Pioneers disposed of Washington, 4-2, in the title game of the Class 2A U High Regional.
The Pioneers (19-6) advance to a Wednesday semifinal match in the Dunlap Sectional where they will face the winner of the Peoria Notre Dame Regional, a crown to be decided when the host school faces Metamora on Saturday morning.
Clay, Kelley, Redd and Wittman all contributed to the scoring in extending a school-record.
"This is the winningest senior group that we've had," Stanton said. "This is their 80th win in the four-year span. You can't say enough. It's been an unbelievable group to work with."
The Pioneers were aggressive from outset, peppering Washington goalkeeper Caezar Martinez with 15 first-half shots.
U High got on the board with 16:22 remaining in the opening period when Clay found the net with a header off an assist from Redd.
Less than four minutes later, Kelley booted a pass downfield that was corralled by Redd and converted into a 2-0 halftime lead.
"We're a very offensive-minded team. I think we defend best when we're attacking, so that's always our plan," Redd said. "(The opponent) can't score when they don't have the ball, so we're always trying to possess, move that ball around and take our opportunities and finish them."
Redd scored for the second time on a penalty kick with 27:07 remaining in the match to give the Pioneers a 3-0 advantage. U High took a 4-0 lead when Wittman chased down a pass from Clay and left-footed it into the net with 23:18 left.
"We really just had the mindset we wanted to get back to a sectional game and see how far we can advance," said Clay. "This definitely is a big challenge for us."
Washington (10-11-2) averted a shutout when Ryan Kastl scored on a free kick with 15:34 remaining. The Panthers added to their attempt at a comeback when Kastl netted another goal with 11:52 left on a breakaway assist from Jaxon Coleman.
"They showed a lot of heart. They always have the whole season," said Washington coach Nathan Sidwell. "They've stuck it out, even in the toughest games. We have a very tough schedule and these guys gut it out every game."
U High outshot the Panthers 25-14 and dominated possession throughout.
"Every year we come out and try to play our very best," said Redd. "Today I think we played really well and we're piecing things together."
"We've got a tough road ahead of us," said Stanton of moving on in the postseason. "But we'll take it one game at a time. We've got a team that can compete with anybody."