Warren's Nick Haas (left) and Sandburg's Tom Nie battle for the ball. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 4, 2012 6:07AM
The set piece is the most feared weapon in soccer. Running it right takes practice and precision. Having somebody like Daniel Szczepanek is also ideal.
The star Warren midfielder played a part on the Blue Devils’ first two goals on beautiful set pieces the Blue Devils utilized in grabbing a crucial early lead as they drilled Sandburg 3-0 in a Class 3A state semifinal Friday night at Lincoln-Way North in Frankfort.
The Blue Devils (20-5-3) continued their smoldering state tournament run, now outscoring opponents 32-7 in their six tournament games. Warren advances to the Class 3A state championship game tomorrow against Naperville Central, which beat Stevenson.
Still burning from losing two games on penalty kicks a year ago in finishing fourth in Class 3A, Warren set the dominant tone with goals in the 23rd and 34th minute. “We’re still feeling that hurt from last year, and we don’t want to feel that again, so we’re trying to finish what we started,” Szczepanek said.
Warren has an almost unorthodox lineup.
Two defenders scored for the Blue Devils. In the 23rd minute, Szczepanek initiated the set piece with his flip throw-in. Senior defender Timmy Pieper headed the ball to 6-2 junior defender Karl Bappert. He directed the ball with a half scissor kick that slipped inside the post.
“It went behind the player and I stuck my leg out,” Bappert said. “Timmy and I work on that every day in practice, with him either heading the ball to me or the other way around.”
Szczepanek is the team’s catalyst. He recorded his 24th assist in the 34th minute by perfectly lofting a free kick that Pieper elevated and smashed with a header for the 2-0 lead at intermission.
“The keeper [Adam Zehme] was over six-feet tall (6-4) and he was grabbing some of (throw-ins),” Szczepanek said. “We’ve been working on set pieces the whole year. We’ve got big tall defenders who go up and they can do things defensively. I just tried to put it in a good position and give us a chance to score. That’s what I tried to do.”
The Blue Devils’ goals decisively swung the momentum in their favor. Sandburg (18-6-3) dominated the first eight minutes. “We were so nervous at the start, it’s the Final Four, and we just had to settle down,” Szczepanek said. “Once we got the first goal, everybody settled down.”
With Warren’s unorthodox lineup of five midfielders, the Blue Devils controlled possession time. Their quickness and speed in the open field put the Eagles at a major disadvantage.
Warren senior midfielder Sean Kirwan put the game away with his sixth goal of the year 66th minute on an assist from Nick Wegrzynowicz.