Bulldogs exhale after penalty kicks

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AURORA – It seemed that the only thing standing in the way of Batavia advancing past Plainfield South on Tuesday afternoon in a Class 3A Waubonsie Valley Regional semifinal was the rain and field conditions.

Boasting the higher seed and a relative advantage in talent, Batavia also controlled possession a lot longer than Plainfield South. Despite all of those factors, the Bulldogs were pushed to the limit, surviving with a 5-3 win on penalty kicks after sneaking through regulation and a pair of overtimes tied, 1-1.

In the penalty kick shootout, Batavia goalkeeper Nick Foster deflected Michael Decker’s shot wide that provided the Bulldogs the only opening they needed as John Barnes, Brendan Allen, Nick Konopacki, Kevin Collins and David Curnock all scored.

“We scouted Plainfield South a couple of times and they never quit, they just keep coming,” Batavia coach Mark Gianfrancesco said. “However unconventional they are and with the ground conditions being what they were, we knew this was going to be a battle.”

Neither team looked sharp for the first 15 minutes, trying to figure out the slow track that wasn’t helped by a soft, steady rain. Midway through the first half, the Bulldogs finally found their way, netting a goal from Ian Larson at 21:35.

Batavia (16-3-2) had its chances thereafter, appearing to score a second goal with just more than three minutes left in the half, but Kevin Collins’ shot was ruled a hand-ball.

Plainfield South (6-12-3) regrouped in the second half and attempted to counterattack most balls outside its own 18-yard box. The strategy paid off, putting Batavia on its heels in the process. The Cougars made the most of the few chances they had, netting the equalizer with 36:14 to go in the second half on a well-played shot from Julian Tejeda that just snuck over the outstretched arms of Foster.

The Cougars nearly found the go-ahead strike with 19:18 to go, but Decker’s goal was called back after he was called offsides.

Only two minutes later, Barnes was brought down in the box, resulting in a penalty kick for Batavia. The outcome was not what the Bulldogs were looking for, as Larson boomed the ball over the bar.

“I don’t really know what happened in the second half; it was kind of a mental lapse,” Larson said. “We kept fighting hard, but you have to give the credit to our back line. They didn’t stop fighting and kept us in the game. They just kept pushing hard.”

Undeterred by Larson’s would-be game-winner, Batavia held strong defensively for the remainder of regulation and each 10-minute overtime session, snuffing out a pair of potential Plainfield South scoring chances.

In penalty kicks, it was Foster who came up big. With both teams’ first shooters burying their respective shots, Foster walked the ball out to Decker before slowly retreating to the goal line. The strategy worked out as Decker didn’t get much on his shot, giving Foster enough time to push it wide right.

“We missed some shots that we could have made, but they fought hard and I guess that’s what kept them in it,” Foster said.

Batavia will face host Waubonsie Valley for the regional championship at 3 p.m. Saturday.

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