EDWARDSVILLE — Second chances don't always come around, but the Edwardsville Tigers have earned one.
The Tigers (19-3-2) will face Naperville Central (18-2-2) in the semifinals of the Class 3A state soccer tournament at 7 p.m. Friday at Hoffman Estates High School.
Last season, the Redhawks eliminated Edwardsville 1-0 in the Normal Super-Sectional on their way to placing second in state.
"We certainly have players back from last year's team," Edwardsville coach Mark Heiderscheid said. "More than that, they've lost seniors and we've lost seniors.
"It's so important for both teams to try and make it into the championship game. It's ironic it's the very next year. Last year, it was in the quarterfinals to make state. Here, the game is very important because now it's a semifinal match to make the championship game. So it's strange that we've both been on this collision (course) to play each other."
The winner Friday will play Lake Park (21-2-3), of Roselle, or Wheeling (22-1-2) for the championship at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Lake Park and Wheeling meet in the first semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday.
Both Edwardsville and Naperville Central appear to have what it takes to win the championship.
Edwardsville, which extended its winning streak to 13 with a 2-0 victory over Sandburg, of Orland Park, in the Normal Super-Sectional on Tuesday, is seeking its first title since 2000 in Class AA. The Tigers made three consecutive appearances at state from 2008-10.
Naperville Central, which defeated Morton 2-0 in the Romeoville Super-Sectional on Tuesday, has finished runner-up at the state tournament the last two seasons, falling 1-0 to Gurnee-Warren last year and 1-0 to Morton in 2011.
"Last year they had (DePaul recruit) Pat Flynn, who was on everybody's radar as being one of the two or three top players in the whole state of Illinois," Heiderscheid said. "They were also blessed with a lot of players to complement him.
"Really, the last two years, they were probably the favored team going into the state final --to win it. Many people in the Chicagoland area would certainly think Naperville Central is the odds-on favorite to win it here."
Senior Josh Kowalis and junior Andrew Mullican scored Edwardsville's goals Tuesday. But the Tigers' most consistent offensive threats are senior forward Brent Heinlein (16 goals, nine assists) and junior Landon Paul (12 goals, eight assists). Heinlein's corner kick into the middle of the box early in the second half led to Kowalis' goal that snapped a scoreless tie against Sandburg.
Paul, who has six goals in the postseason, was sidelined by an ankle injury for the final 46 minutes Tuesday, but Heiderscheid expects Paul to be near full strength for Naperville Central.
"He was walking pretty fine (Wednesday) and did some stuff with our trainer," Heiderscheid said. "He was looking like he probably would have been able to play as early as (Thursday). I think he will be fine come (Friday). That's part of the gig, too, at this point; you have to have your team healthy."
Junior midfielder Suleman Bazai (six goals, five assists), Kowalis (five goals) and sophomore midfielder Tommy Giacobbe (five goals, six assists) also represent threats for the Tigers.
The Redhawks, on an eight-game winning streak, are powered by junior forward Jordi Heeneman (14 goals, five assists) and senior midfielder Jay Tegge (10 goals, 12 assists).
Senior midfielders David Murphy (eight goals, nine assists) and Devon Amoo-Mensah (eight goals, eight assists) and senior forwards Ben Border (eight goals, eight assists) and Sam Reskala (seven goals, six assists) also get involved in the act.
Both squads have allowed a scant 16 goals.
"They kind of parallel us in that they are very good defending," Heiderscheid said. "They've had good success in terms of getting goals here in the playoffs and the rest of the season. I know this will certainly be our toughest match so far in the state series.
"I'm more concerned with just their overall ability as a team. We were certainly aware of Pat Flynn last year. Here, they're just a very balanced team. That's really a concern. ... I think we've got a good shot, but Naperville Central is a team I have the most respect for. This is a challenging draw in the semis. This one will really be a challenge."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.