ST. CHARLES – The Tri-City Shootout doubleheader gave all four Tri-Cities boys soccer teams a closer look at one another. The only one of the four with a winning record reinforced its seasonlong prowess with the evening’s dominant performance.
Host St. Charles East blistered Geneva, 4-0, in the first game of Tuesday night’s doubleheader, keeping the Saints’ Upstate Eight Conference River title hopes on solid footing.
“I’ve been here nine years, and this is the best East team I’ve seen,” Geneva coach Ryan Estabrook said. “They’ve got a lot of talent and they’re well organized. They work well as a unit.
“They clearly beat us tonight. It wasn’t a matter of the four goals going in. They dominated the game.”
In the nightcap, St. Charles North made it a St. Charles sweep as the North Stars nipped Batavia, 2-1.
East (11-2-1, 3-1 UEC River) has overwhelmed several opponents this season but seldom have corner kicks played such a prominent role. The Saints’ first two goals both came off corners taken by Jake Sterling, with T.C. Hull and Taylor Ortiz providing the finishes.
“I’ll be honest, we really haven’t had much productivity [on corners]” East coach Paul Jennison said. “We’ve had great service but haven’t gotten on the end of them. Tonight, it was very nice to put two away.”
The second of the two came less than a minute into the second half.
“When you get scored on 20 seconds into the second half, that changes the emotions of the game,” Estabrook said. “Our heads dropped, and it gave East a lot more energy.”
Geneva (2-6-2, 2-2 UEC River) had saved its best moments this season for Tri-Cities opposition, defeating St. Charles North and Batavia for its two victories. But the Vikings couldn’t keep up with the Saints – especially Hull, who scored a pair of goals.
“Last year the bigger guys were knocking him around a little bit, but this year his speed’s just something different,” Jennison said of the junior forward. “He’s a quality player. ... He’s a fast-thinking fellow, so he tends to make it work pretty well for himself.”
Hull’s turnaround rocket from about 15 yards out finished the scoring with 21:01 to play in the match.
“That was a good hit,” Hull said. “I haven’t had a hit that good yet this season, so it felt good.”
East junior midfielder Eric Dietrich supplied the Saints’ other goal, making it 3-0 on a point-blank strike with 27:01 to play.
In the Batavia-North match, the final minute of the first half proved eventful.
North senior Kyle Swanson scored only 24 seconds before the intermission to make it 2-0. Batavia almost answered right back as North Stars goalkeeper Billy Larsen turned back a legitimate scoring chance from the Bulldogs’ Kyle Rakos as time in the half expired.
The North Stars (6-7-2, 2-2 UEC River) took the lead, 1-0, when junior Matt Picinich poked in a carom off the post midway through the first half.
“I think we subbed him in 20 seconds before he scored a goal,” North coach Eric Willson said. “That’s a pretty good percentage. If he could do that every time, I think we’d be pretty happy with that.”
The Bulldogs tallied in unorthodox fashion as Mike Rueffer’s throw-in from a sharp angle was mishandled by Larsen and trickled in to cut North’s lead in half with 27:05 to play in the game.
“I was trying to get my team organized, the ref was telling everybody to stay off each other, and I just got distracted,” Larsen said. “The throw came in and I just wasn’t set.”
But Larsen redeemed himself with a couple solid saves to preserve the win, including one on Batavia’s Brendan Allen that Bulldogs coach Mark Gianfrancesco thought was close to crossing the goal line.
“Going from an unfortunate goal to making a [big] save, it was a good feeling,” Larsen said.
Batavia (2-10-2, 1-5 UEC River) also benefited from sharp sequences in net in the second half as junior Nick Foster stymied quality North chances to pad its lead. Senior Justin Stanko and junior Logan Dunne were among the North Stars who flirted with notching an insurance goal.
“He’s good at making the big saves,” Gianfrancesco said. “We just need Nick to continue to make the routine saves, but he definitely makes big-time saves. He definitely kept us in the match.”