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Tri-Cities doubleheader goes to form

St. Charles East's Kevin Heinrich (15) and Taylor Ortiz (9) are joined by teammates while celebrating Heinrich's goal in the first minute of their Tri City Challenge game against Geneva Tuesday.
St. Charles East's Kevin Heinrich (15) and Taylor Ortiz (9) are joined by teammates while celebrating Heinrich's goal in the first minute of their Tri City Challenge game against Geneva Tuesday.

GENEVA – The favorites looked the part on Tuesday night at the eighth annual Tri-Cities Showcase boys soccer doubleheader.

Batavia blanked St. Charles North, 1-0, before St. Charles East handled host Geneva, 2-0.

The Bulldogs have made a habit of winning via shutout in recent weeks, as defenders Chase Correll, Nick Konopacki, Joe Leiferman and Nick Samperi led the way in notching the team's eighth shutout of the season. Four of those have come in the Bulldogs' last five outings.

"It takes all four of us, obviously," Samperi said. "We just make sure we stay on them. It's been working so far."

Goalkeepers John Faraone (first half) and Nick Foster (second half) also helped ensure Ian Larson's first-half goal stood up for the Bulldogs.

Larson gathered a long, diagonal feed from Brendan Allen and finagled space to uncork a left-footed shot despite tight marking. The shot handcuffed North sophomore goalkeeper Kevin Sabres, filling in for usual starter Billy Larsen, who was ill.

Larson is enjoying a breakthrough offensive season for the Bulldogs.

"He gets a nice angle on it, and the power he puts on it at that angle is pretty good, and it usually goes in," Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco said. "But Allen stepping up, winning that ball in the midfield and being able to play it that quickly and having the wherewithal to do that was great. That's what we want him to do."

Larson scored a last-minute goal to give Batavia a 1-0 win over Geneva last month. This goal might not have been as dramatic, but it was the difference-maker against another Tri-Cities rival.

"It was a great ball, first of all," Larson said. "I just knew I'd take the shot. I cut back, and I just hit it."

Another narrow loss meant more frustration for North coach Eric Willson, who is not accustomed to watching his program have a season like this one. Willson said the North Stars need to grow "a little bit hungrier" in the box after absorbing their latest setback.

"That's kind of a broken record for us," Willson said. "We've had a lot of tight games, a lot of close games and we continue to have difficulty getting over that hump and finding a way to win these close games.

"I'd say with the exception of maybe St. Viator, we've been in every game we've played, and we've got a 2-8-2 record to show for it."

North freshman Ryan Olson hit a crossbar in the first half, as did the Bulldogs' Larson.

Batavia (10-2-2 overall) closes its Upstate Eight Conference River slate with a 5-1 mark, the lone loss coming to St. Charles East. The Bulldogs have a chance to earn a piece of the title with some luck.

"Now East has got to do their work," Gianfrancesco said.

The Saints took a step toward defending their UEC River title in the nightcap, scoring in the match's opening minute on a Jake Sterling corner kicker that was finished by defender Kevin Heinrich.

East (11-0-3, 3-0 UEC River) added a second first-half goal with 17:03 to go thanks to a wide run by junior forward Tyler Robbins, whose scouting skills seem to be on target. 

"I told the boys before the game, you'll find me out wide, because they just press in," Robbins said of Geneva's defense. "Sure enough, I got a great ball right to me, and I just finished it in."

The Vikings (5-8, 0-4 UEC River) had a prime chance to tie the score at 1 about seven minutes in to the match when East goalkeeper Chris Lucatorto was briefly sidelined due to a yellow card ahead of a Vikings free kick just outside the box. The shot from Geneva senior Beck Nebergall sailed a bit high.

"To begin the game, it was just a huge momentum push for them to score within [39 seconds], and we thought if you get this one back, all the sudden the energy is back in the game, we're feeling better about ourselves," Geneva coach Ryan Estabrook said. "So that would have been a nice one to have, but free kicks are never easy when they have a six-person wall. That's still a tough spot even though it was a pretty green keeper out there and it was close to the net."

For the second straight match – East tied Streamwood, 0-0, on Saturday – Saints coach Paul Jennison delivered a subdued postgame message. He thought his unbeaten team's play leveled off after a strong start against the Vikings.

"One of the reasons I never come in here, always high-fiving, saying we're the best team in the world, is because I see them every day in practice," Jennison said. "I know what we can do."

Proceeds from the doubleheader went to the Owen Payton Foundation to help the family of 7-year-old Owen, who was born with multiple congenital heart defects. Owen Payton's father was a former college teammate of Estabrook's at Augustana.

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