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Batavia girls soccer snares elusive regional crown

ROSELLE – For a few moments Friday after Batavia’s 4-2 victory over host Lake Park, Shelby Stone held the IHSA Class 3A regional championship plaque high above her head, a look of immense satisfaction on her face.

“It’s a great feeling, especially being a senior this year,” the Bulldogs midfielder said. “This is what we’ve been striving for all year. We finally did it. We haven’t done it in a while and that was our first goal on our list this year – to get a regional championship in the books for us.”

No current Bulldogs were in high school the last time Batavia won a regional title, which was 2002 according to the IHSA website. Some, like freshman forward Megan McEachern, weren’t even in grade school yet.

“It’s not something that happens at Batavia, but we want to make it a common occurrence here,” Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco said. “We played for a regional title last year against Conant. We had a lot of young players and it was their first experience with that. Those players are back again this year and obviously, I think, used some of that experience to get this win.”

There’s a chance Batavia could see Conant again in the Hoffman Estates Sectional championship game Friday, but first the Bulldogs (13-4-3) will have to get past either St. Charles East or Geneva on Tuesday. Batavia dropped a 4-2 decision early in the season to the Saints and tied the Vikings, 1-1. The Bulldogs also drew with Lake Park in their first meeting this season.

“We had the game in hand, but didn’t finish our chances,” Gianfrancesco said of the first Lake Park match. “They came back and tied it with like 10 minutes left. Third game of the season. Kind of a bad taste in our mouth. This was one we wanted.”

The Bulldogs made sure they finished a good percentage of their scoring opportunities in this meeting with the Lancers (15-6-1). Senior forward Grace Andrews scored on two of Batavia’s first four shots on goal in the first half. The first came just seven minutes into the contest when Andrews beat Lake Park keeper Rebecca Thorne off a long pass by Brittany Wahlen.

“It was a good opportunity,” Andrews said. “I just ran onto the ball. Megan kind of blocked out one of the defenders and I just got there right before the keeper. It just went right over the keeper, so it was a good ball.”

Andrews put the Bulldogs up 2-0 with 17:26 left in the first half when a Lake Park defender misplayed a long ball from McEachern.

“It was kind of the same thing [as the first goal],” Andrews said. “I was sprinting a diagonal across the field and I basically just touched it. I was there at the right time.”

The Lancers got that goal back less than two minutes later when Jillian Kent bent a corner kick past keeper Nikki Seiton, who appeared to be anticipating a header flick from a player at the near post.

“Even when they scored, we didn’t lose any composure,” Gianfrancesco said. “We stayed focused. We still were pressing them, still creating chances.”

That paid off early in the second half when Stone scored what proved to be the game-winning goal off an Anna Zeyen free kick from just outside the right corner of the box.

“I don’t really know what happened,” Stone said. “I saw the ball go through and I just kicked it and was hoping it was going in the net. I saw it go off the post and from there it was all excitement.”

There was more excitement for the Bulldogs with 16:47 remaining in the match. Sophomore midfielder Alexis Bryl’s long shot caused a brief moment of indecision for Thorne and it wound up bouncing over the keeper’s head and into the goal.

That gave Batavia a comfortable 4-1 lead. Lake Park junior Lauren Bolnius kept things interesting by scoring on a long shot with 12:30 left, but the Bulldogs shut the door after that, giving up only one shot on goal the rest of the way. Overall, Batavia outshot the Lancers, 14-6.

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