Downers Grove North’s option offense helped doom the Batavia football team to a season-ending loss in an IHSA Class 7A first-round playoff game Friday.
Solace could be a long-time coming for the top-seeded Bulldogs, who stormed to their second straight unbeaten regular season and Upstate Eight Conference River Division title. Still, the following sounds like salve from Trojans linebacker Vontae Diggs. He sees the option every day in practice and finds it equally perplexing.
“It’s really hard to stop, because either way, what you do, you can’t be great,” Diggs said. “You stop the dive, and [the quarterback] pitches it. You try to stop the pitch man, he goes to the dive. You can’t be correct on it.”
Batavia would like to think Diggs was wrong, and perhaps someone else in 7A will prove it. Right now, the Bulldogs only know they’re frustrated about a 38-26 defeat.
“I wish we could continue, and it’s been great playing on this field,” senior receiver Zach Strittmatter said after the game. “Three great years and some great teammates, and I’ll never forget any one of them. It’s just ending too quick right now.”
One matter that lingered after the game was the referendum between the UEC River and the West Suburban Silver, which produced the Trojans (6-4) and five other playoff teams.
The River’s only other postseason entrant was St. Charles East, which was eliminated by 7A title hopeful Wheaton North on Friday, 41-13. Both conferences feature seven teams.
While Diggs called the West Suburban Silver “the toughest conference in the state,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron wished the Bulldogs had represented their league better. He was clear entering the game about the challenge the Trojans posed, but remained adamant afterward that their conference didn’t win the game.
Remember, the Bulldogs opened the regular season with a one-point victory at eventual DuPage Valley Conference champion Glenbard North.
“Honestly, I don’t feel like if we played [the Trojans] in a few weeks again, we couldn’t beat them,” Piron said. “I honestly feel that way. I don’t feel that they are that superior to us. In fact, I think our kids are going to be extremely disappointed long-term that they didn’t win this game [Friday], because they had chances and they had opportunities. But again, I don’t want them to have any regrets about anything, because I sure don’t.”
A longtime assistant and Batavia alum who took over as head coach before the 2011 season, Piron will bring a 21-2 career record into next fall, including an 18-0 mark in the regular season. The Bulldogs advanced to the 6A semifinals in his head coaching debut last year.
North’s Shah to UIC: Illinois-Chicago baseball coaches scouted St. Charles North senior left-hander Ankur Shah at a tournament in July. When they checked back at a showcase three months later, the Flames asked him to take a campus visit. Over the weekend, they ultimately extended a scholarship offer, too.
Shah accepted the offer Monday, verbally committing to fulfill his dream of playing NCAA Division I baseball amid an already busy offseason.
“I’m on a velocity program. I’ve gotten a lot stronger. I’ve just worked on my skills a lot more,” Shah said. “The hard work has paid off. I’ve been really going after that D-I offer, and it finally came.”
Shah also weighed opportunities at smaller schools such as North Park and Elgin Community College. He took an unofficial campus visit to Michigan State in February, but the Spartans have not been in touch since then.
Shah said his fastball has been topping out at 84 mph. At UIC, he’ll have the chance to join his older sister on campus and hopefully have several family members on hand for his starts. Shah’s father, Chirag, already knows his way around Chicago as a chiropractic consultant for the Cubs.
Ankur Shah grew close to former Cubs pitchers Carlos Zambrano and Bob Howry as a result, and communicated with Howry during the recruiting process.
“It was fun to pick their brains and learn a lot,” Shah said.
Shah plans to study kinesiology and eventually follow into his father’s line of work.
On Friel and Frio: Colgate senior linebacker Pat Friel, a 2009 East alum, was named Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after collecting 16 tackles and two sacks in Saturday’s 47-33 victory at Bucknell.
After matching his single-game career high in tackles, he leads the team with 79 in eight games. Friel also is tops on the Raiders with 41⁄2 sacks and 61⁄2 tackles for loss.
Friel ended his Saints’ career just as a near-namesake was about to begin his own. Although he missed East’s last three games with a deep knee bruise, linebacker/kicker Pat Frio was part of the program’s resurgence in its first playoff season since ’09.
Saints coach Mike Fields often entertained queries about Frio and Friel – whose last season came under former coach Ted Monken. He didn’t mind the opportunity to differentiate.
“First it’s, ‘Hey, are they related?’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, no. Different families,’ ” Fields said. “Pat Frio, he’s a good football player, good junior. I’ll go to battle with Pat any day. He’s a great kid, and I love the way that he battles and fights through stuff.”
Monken used to say the same about Friel.
• Kevin Druley is a sports writer for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.